Al-Assad may go as part of a settlement, Moscow says
DAMASCUS / MOSCOW
Kin of a rebel, who was killed during clashes with the Syrian regime forces, mourns over his dead body before his funeral in his family house on the outskirts of Idlib, AP photo
Russia has never indicated that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must remain the leader of the Arab republic, officials in Moscow said yesterday ahead of a U.S. State Department visit this week.
“We have never said or insisted that al-Assad necessarily had to remain in power at the end of the political process,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in Switzerland.
“This issue has to be settled by the Syrians themselves,” ITAR-TASS news agency quoted him as saying.
Yesterday’s statement was one of its most explicit about al-Assad’s position since Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov refused to clearly back his rule during a visit to Damascus in February.
It came as a U.S. team is scheduled to hold meetings in Moscow on the Syria crisis. “We are in the process of meeting [U.S. Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton’s deputies who work on the Middle East and Syria in particular,” the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying. RIA Novosti said the delegation would be headed by Frederic Hof, the U.S. Special Coordinator for Regional Affairs and a pointman on Syrian issues.
Russian and China pledged yesterday to increase their cooperation in the United Nations, as the giant neighbors try to resist mounting pressure for international action to stop the bloodshed in Syria. Clinton yesterday called on Russia and China to be “part of the solution” to the crisis in Syria after they agreed to work together more closely in the U.N.
Syria permits access to aid workers: UN
The U.N. said yesterday that Syria’s government had given them permission to visit four locations following a meeting on ramping up humanitarian aid.
“We will have a presence in Homs, Idlib, Daraa and Deir ez-Zor to start with,” said John Ging, director of the coordination and response unit at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
On the ground, Syrian government forces backed by helicopters clashed yesterday with rebels in several towns in Latakia, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Rebels said at least eight of the fighters were killed.
At least five tanks and armored personnel carriers were destroyed, said activists. Elsewhere, troops and pro-regime militia backed by tanks went on a new offensive against rebels, seizing the central town of Kfar Zita after three days of bombardment, the Observatory said, adding that rebels had withdrawn. Four civilians were killed overnight in a “huge military operation” in the Kfar Oweid area of Idlib.
2,700 Syrians flees Turkey
Meanwhile, almost 2,700 Syrians fled to Turkey during the first five days of June, a Turkish official said yesterday. Most of the refugees have poured into the border province of Hatay.
International community fails to speak with one voice: FM
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has criticized the international community for failing to unite and speak with one voice on Syria. “If there is a security risk for us, Turkey has the every right to take all necessary measures,” Davutoğlu said in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Istanbul.
The al-Assad regime has used the weakness of the international community in order to gain more time, he said. “What we need to have is one firm, united position as the international community,” he added.
“The U.N. General Assembly has voted on a resolution, and 139 countries supported this. So it is interesting that the most affected countries have one position, and the General Assembly and 139 countries agree with this position, but because of [Security Council] veto power and because of the internal dynamics of the U.N. Security Council’s permanent members – not all of them – the process has been delayed. And because of that delay, thousands of people have been killed and we don’t know what will happen next. The first responsibility, and what we are requesting as Turkey and the Arab League, is to act very firmly with the U.N. Security Council. We saw the consequences of the same delay in the 1990s in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the end of the day, without a clear, united position it will be difficult. But – and I am sure Jordan feels the same – if there is any security risk for us as a neighbor, Turkey has every right to take all necessary measures,” Davutoğlu said.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.