JERUSALEM – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is preparing a major offensive in the coming days against the opposition targeting his regime, an informed Syrian government source confirmed.

The source told WND yesterday Assad was warned by Russia that if the coming counterinsurgency targeting the opposition is not successful in the next 4-6 weeks, Syria should be prepared for a war.

The source did not say whether the possibility of war referred to a Russian expectation of international intervention in Syria.

The information comes after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday accused Russia of sending helicopter gunships to Syria for use in crackdowns on rebel positions across Syria.

“We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria,” said Clinton. “They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn’t worry – everything they are shipping is unrelated to their [the Syrian government's] actions internally. That’s patently untrue.”

Continued Clinton: “And we are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.”

Also yesterday U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland echoed concerns by UN envoy Kofi Annan that a so-called massacre is being organized against the Syrian opposition.

“The United States joins joint special envoy Kofi Annan in expressing deep alarm at reports from inside Syria that the regime may be organizing another massacre,” Nuland said. “People will be held accountable.”

A previous attack against civilians in the Syrian neighbourhood of Houla saw 108 people, including 49 children, reportedly executed at close range on May 25. The international community quickly blamed Assad’s forces for the massacre.

This past weekend, Germany’s leading daily, the Frankfurter “Allgemeine Zeitung,” quoted sources claiming the Houla massacre was actually committed by anti-Assad Sunni militants.

Immediately following the massacre, WND reported Syria presented the United Nations and the U.S. with information that claimed it was a group affiliated with al-Qaida, armed by Turkey, that slaughtered the civilians in their homes in Houla, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials.

The international community has widely condemned Syria, pinning the blame for the Houla massacre on forces acting under the direction of Assad’s regime.

Assad’s regime several times has claimed al-Qaida was behind a series of attacks blamed on Syrian forces.

Last month, Syria said it arrested 26 al-Qaida “foreign terrorists,” including one Jordanian.

Two weeks ago Assad used a rare national address to blame “terrorists” and foreign elements for the Houla massacre.

The massacre furthered galvanized world opinion against Assad and has led to stepped-up calls by the opposition for the use of military force to oust the Syrian regime.

The U.S., Italy and Spain announced last week they are expelling Syrian ambassadors after similar moves by France, Germany, Britain, Australia and Canada.

In retaliation, Syria said it is expelling diplomats from Turkey and 10 Western countries, including the U.S. and the U.K.

Much of the Western news media blamed Assad’s troops for the Houla massacre.

But underscoring the gap of information on the ground, many news media reports at first claimed the civilian deaths in Houla were caused by mortars and shelling by Assad’s forces.

Two days later, much of the news media changed its tune, parroting a U.N. report that says most of the 108 victims of the Houla massacre were shot at close range, some of them women, children and entire families gunned down in their homes.

Survivors and witnesses cited by the U.N. blamed the house-to-house killings on pro-government thugs known as shabiha.

Largely unreported is Syria’s claim that an armed terrorism element is behind the massacre.

Middle East security officials told WND Syria has sent information to the U.S., U.N. and other international bodies indicating the house-to-house slaughter was carried out by a group affiliated with al-Qaida that came from North Africa.

According to Syria, the jihad organization entered Syria via Turkey, where the militants were first armed. Syria did not blame Turkey directly for the massacre, the security officials said. The Syrian report stated Turkey likely believes the al-Qaida elements were going to fight Assad’s regime.

For months now, Turkey has been hosting the Syrian opposition and agitating for international military intervention against Damascus.

Two weeks ago one Egyptian security official told WND there is a growing collaboration between the Syrian opposition and al-Qaida as well as evidence the opposition is sending weapons to jihadists in Iraq.

An Egyptian military attaché detailed the alleged collaboration between al-Qaida and the U.S.-aided opposition in Syria that operates under the banner of the National Free Army.

The purported cooperation extends to recent suicide attacks and bombings in Damascus and in the embattled Syrian city of Homs.

The military official told WND that Egypt has reports of collaboration between the Syrian opposition and three al-Qaida arms:

  • Jund al-Sham, which is made up of al-Qaida militants who are Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese;
  • Jund al-Islam, which in recent years merged with Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group of Sunni Iraqis operating under the al-Qaida banner;
  • Jund Ansar al-Allah, an al-Qaida group based in Gaza linked to Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Syria.

The Arab League, which has condemned Syria, previously privately recognized an armed terrorist element agitating against Assad’s regime.

A leaked Arab League dispatch, posted in February by the Anonymous group, said Arab League monitors on the ground in Syria several times witnessed an “armed entity” provoking Syrian forces and placing civilian lives in danger.

That section of the classified report read: “The Mission determined that there is an armed entity that is not mentioned in the protocol. … In some zones, this armed entity reacted by attacking Syrian security forces and citizens, causing the Government to respond with further violence. In the end, innocent citizens pay the price for those actions with life and limb.”