Syria blames Saudi Arabia for conflict

DAMSCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria has lashed out at Saudi Arabia, accusing the Gulf kingdom of backing "terrorists" after Riyadh condemned Damascus for enlisting fighters from its Lebanese ally in its struggle with rebels.

Damascus has previously blamed the Sunni Gulf states, who along with the United States and its European allies back the Syrian opposition, for the civil war that has claimed more than 93,000 lives.

The latest remarks by Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi were carried late Tuesday by the state agency SANA. They come after Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Jiddah and condemned Assad for bolstering his army with fighters from Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group. Prince Saud charged that Syria faces "genocide" and "foreign invasion."

His comments were carried by the state-run SANA news agency late Tuesday.

Al-Zoubi fired back, saying Riyadh is responsible for his country's conflict because it is providing weapons and money to "terrorists," the government's term for rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.

He said Saudi diplomats have blood on their hands and are "trembling in fear of the victories of the Syrian army." The Syrian military with Hezbollah's help captured the central town of Qusair earlier this month and says it is building on the victory to attack rebel-held areas elsewhere.

Syria's conflict began as peaceful protests against Assad's rule. It gradually became an armed conflict after the Assad's regime used the army to crackdown on dissent and some opposition supporters took up weapons to fight government troops.

In the past year the fighting has increasingly been taking sectarian overtones. Sunni Muslims dominate the rebel ranks while Assad's regime is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam. Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia is Washington's key ally and a foe of Iran. Tehran, a Shiite powerhouse, supports Assad.

Saudi Arabia is sending lethal aid to the rebels. The United States also said it will provide arms to the opposition despite the Obama administration's reluctance to send heavier arms for fear they might end up in the hands of al-Qaida affiliated groups.

Even the most modest international efforts to end the Syrian conflict have failed. U.N.'s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, told reporters on Tuesday that an international peace conference proposed by Russia and the U.S. will not take place until later in the summer.