President Bashar al-Assad is leading Syria to the brink of civil war by inflaming sectarian hatreds through his bloody crackdown on protesters challenging his rule, a senior U.S. official said on Sunday.

Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman accused Assad of forcing his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, who are the country's ruling elite and have a tight grip on the country's military and security apparatus, into a bloody conflict with the country's majority Sunnis.

Bashar al-Assad is the one who is deepening the sectarian hatred. He seems to be intent on fulfilling his own prophecy that Syria is going to move into chaos and civil war, Feltman, who is in charge of near eastern affairs, told reporters in Amman.

He (Assad) is using one community in Syria, he is drawing on intelligence services that are largely made up of one community in Syria and he is using them against demonstrations that are largely composed of another community in Syria, Feltman said.

So when you are talking of growing sectarian strife in Syria it's happening because of what Bashar al-Assad is doing, he added.

Western powers led by the United States have called on Assad to leave power. Feltman said the stepped-up diplomatic moves by the Arab League and the international community to isolate the regime was to avoid a slide into deeper bloodshed.

But the way you save Syria from moving into chaos and civil war is you get rid of Bashar, stop his methods now, so we hope this happens quickly, Feltman said.

He said the U.S. administration did not want military intervention in Syria and still had not exhausted peaceful avenues to force Assad to end a military crackdown that has pushed the death toll close to 4,600.

I don't think any one of us wants to see any kind of military intervention in Syria..So we need to look at what tools we have to try to show Assad and the clique around him that running Syria like a murderous family in business is not the best way to move forward, he added.

Washington, which has tightened sanctions on Damascus in recent months, planned to pile tougher and tougher sanctions to further hurt the country's ruling elite, Feltman said.

I think there has been pain imposed on some people very close to the top circles of the regime cannot predict what the long range impact is going to be but I can tell you we will be looking for ways to continue to increase the pressure on Bashar al-Assad, Feltman added.

Iran, which has close ties with Damascus, was facilitating the murder of Syrian citizens...They are providing support for Bashar al-Assad, they provide technical assistant to tap into opposition communication, Feltman said.

Iran is actively engaged in trying to help Bashar use all means to put down peaceful protests in Syria and cannot imagine that is good for the long-term Syrian-Iranian relationship and that's just fine with us, the senior U.S. official said.

Both Hezbollah and Iran had personnel in Syria, Feltman said, adding, We are not talking about thousands and thousands of people but technical assistance of the most violent kind.

The U.S. official questioned whether Hezbollah, which enjoys strong political and military support from Tehran and Damascus, would engage with Israel to relieve pressure on Syria, saying circumstances had changed from 2006, when the Shiite guerrilla group fought an inconclusive war with the help of Damascus.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Michael Roddy)