Again, Iran struggles to legitimize involvement in Syria conflict
DAMASCUS - Iran is equipping and training Syrian government forces but not providing "direct aid", its interior minister said Monday on a trip to Damascus.
Tehran is a staunch ally of President Bashar al-Assad and has continued to support him throughout the uprising that began in March 2011.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said Iran was providing both Syria and Iraq with aid "in advisory form".
That "means transferring experience and offering expert help and, if necessary, we will provide training too," he said, speaking in Farsi at a press conference in Damascus.
"Iran's attitude is not of direct aid, but in the form of equipping, training and transferring experience to the Syrian youth and people under the supervision of the Syrian government."
Fazli noted that Iran's assistance had been requested by the Syrian government, which has also sought support from ally Russia.
Moscow began an air campaign in support of the government in late September but, unlike the US-led coalition that is also bombing the country, it coordinates its strikes with Damascus.
"Today we see the decline of terrorism inside Syria... and that the resistance has with our support achieved good results," Fazli said.
Tehran has extended financial support to Damascus in the form of credit lines and acknowledges it has military advisors in Syria to assist government forces.
Last year, a US official said as many as 2,000 fighters from Iran and its regional allies were supporting Syria's army in offensives against rebels.
Iran denies having fighters on the ground in Syria.
However, Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement, which is backed by Iran, acknowledges sending its fighters to Syria to bolster government forces.
More than 260,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government demonstrations in March 2011.