Amman/Beirut: A leading Chinese newspaper accused Western countries on Monday of stirring civil war in Syria, where police and militia patrols clamped down on a district of the capital to prevent new demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad.   

After almost a year of protests against Assad's 11-year rule, the uprising has moved to his centre of power in Damascus, where the security police surrounded a funeral of a young protester on Sunday to ensure there was no renewal of some of biggest demonstrations in the capital.   

China's Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, in a front page commentary, said the West's support of the opposition and its demands for Assad to step down could provoke a "large-scale civil war" that might demand foreign intervention.   

China and Russia angered the West and Arab states this month by blocking a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that backed an Arab plan demanding Assad step aside.    

If the Security Council had passed the resolution backing the Arab League, that would only have lead to more violence, Qu King, whom the newspaper identified as a foreign affairs expert, wrote in the article.   

"If Western countries continue to fully support Syria's opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to thus avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention," Qu wrote.   

China has sent envoys to the region, stung by Western criticism that by vetoing the resolutions at the United Nations it was allowing the violence to increase. China and Russia also voted against a non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution to back the Arab plan last week.    

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun met Assad on Saturday in Damascus and appealed to all sides to end the violence, which rights groups say has killed thousands.    

He also expressed Beijing's support for Assad's plan to hold a referendum and a multi-party parliamentary election within four months - a move the West and some in Syria's fragmented opposition have dismissed as a sham.   

In the capital's Mezze district, Samer al-Khatib, a young protester, was killed on Saturday when security forces fired at a rally. His funeral on Sunday was a quiet affair after 15 pick-up trucks of security police and armed pro-Assad militiamen, know as shabbiha, surrounded it.   

"Walking in Mezze now carries the risk of arrest. The area is quiet, even popular food shops in Sheikh Saad are empty," activist Moaz al-Shami said, referring to a main street.         

The Damascus protest indicated the movement against Assad, who has ruled Syria for 11 years after succeeding his father Hafez on his death, has not been cowed and embraces a wide section of Syrian society.   

Assad, who belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, in a majority Sunni country, says he is fighting foreign-backed terrorists.   

No Intervention

The United States, Europe, Turkey and Gulf-led Arab states have all demanded Assad relinquish power.   

The foreign ministers of the G20 industrialised and emerging nation were increasingly concerned about whether a peaceful solution could be found, Australia's foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, said.   

"There is grave concern about the fact that existing structures of the United Nations have not delivered an outcome, namely that we have a U.N. security council resolution, albeit a moderate and mild one, that was still vetoed by two members," he told reporters in Los Cabos, Mexico.   

The West has ruled out any Libya-style military intervention but the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, has indicated some of its member states were prepared to arm the opposition.   

British Foreign Minister William Hague reiterated that view on Sunday, telling the BBC: "We cannot intervene in the way we did in Libya ... we will do many other things."   

"I am worried that Syria is going to slide into a civil war and that our powers to do something about it are very constrained because, as everyone has seen, we have not been able to pass a resolution at the U.N. Security Council because of Russian and Chinese opposition."   

In Washington the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said intervening in Syria would be "very difficult" because it was not another Libya.    

Syria's army is "very capable," with a sophisticated, integrated air defense system and chemical and biological weapons, Dempsey said.     

He also said it was premature to arm the opposition movement in Syria, because "I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point".     

 Catch 22 

Leading Syrian businessman Faisal al-Qudsi said the government was slowly disintegrating and sanctions were ruining the economy.    

He told the BBC in London military action could only last six months but Assad's government would fight to the end.   

"The army is getting tired and will go nowhere," he said.   "They will have to sit and talk or at least they have to stop killing. And the minute they stop killing, more millions of people will be on the streets. So they are in a Catch-22."   

Qudsi, who was involved in Syria's economic liberalisation, told the BBC the apparatus of government was almost non-existent in trouble spots like Homs, Idlib and Deraa.   

Government forces bombarded Homs on Sunday. The western city, strategically sited on the road between Damascus and commercial hub Aleppo, has been under siege for more than two weeks and a humanitarian crisis is unfolding as food and medical supplies are running short.   

Rockets, artillery and sniper fire have killed several hundred people, according to activists, but security forces have held back from a full assault on opposition-held districts. Residents fear a bloodbath should that take place.