DAMASCUS, Syria, April 25 (UPI) -- Syrian officials have begun trying to persuade the United States to change sides and to stop supporting the country's rebels, The New York Times reported.
Among other things, the government has backed off its reluctance to allow foreign journalists into Syria, shown off prisoners they describe as militants and relied behind the scenes on a Syrian-American businessman to help increase American fears of groups such as al-Qaida.
"It's a war for civilization, identity and culture. Syria, if you want, is the last real secular state in the Arab world," Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said.
The Times reported Wednesday it saw the Syrian government's new strategy unfold during a two-week visit to Damascus by Times journalists.
U.S. President Barack Obama hasn't retreated from his demand that Syrian President Bashar Assad step down and has kept up economic pressure on the Syrian government, as well as boosted non-lethal aid to the opposition while calling for a negotiated settlement to the fighting.
But U.S officials have shown uneasiness about the growing influence of Islamic militants among opposition groups and have been unwilling to arm the rebels or to consider stepping in more forcefully without decisive evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, as some Israeli officials claim.
Government officials said the United States and its allies devised the uprising, which has killed at least 70,000 lives by some estimates, to punish Syria for opposing Israel, the Times said.
Opponents blame the Syrian government for fueling sectarianism.
Officials said if Assad fell, Europe would face Islamist-led states from Turkey to Libya, the Times reported. They also urged Washington to investigate whether Turkey channeled jihadists to Syria, violating a U.N. resolution mandating international cooperation against terrorism.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights said it documented 109 deaths in violence across Syria Thursday, including 12 children, four women, 12 people tortured to death , and 38 armed rebels killed.
The group said 42 of the deaths occurred in and around Damascus, 19 were recorded in Homs, 14 in Idlib, 12 in Aleppo and nine in Hama.