Russia seeks talk, Assad vows to fight
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) escorts Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov upon his arrival at the presidential Palace in Damascus, Syria. AP photoSyria’s government vowed yesterday to push ahead with its onslaught in the central province of Homs, while Russia’s foreign minister said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready for dialogue with the opposition.
After calling for an urgent need for reforms during his meeting with al-Assad, Sergey Lavrov said al-Assad had assured him he was “completely committed” to seeking an end to violence by all sides in Syria, Russian news agencies reported. “Today we received confirmation of the readiness of the president of Syria for this work,” he said. Repeated efforts by the Arab League and Russia to broker talks have been rejected by the Syrian opposition.
Meanwhile, Syria’s government vowed to continue its assault on Homs in a bid to rid the region from what it said were “armed terrorist gangs.” “Operations to hunt down terrorist groups will continue until security and order are reestablished in all neighborhoods of Homs and its environs, and until we overcome all armed persons terrorizing citizens and threatening their life,” the interior ministry said in a statement carried by SANA state news agency.
The statement came after the opposition Syrian National Council said it did not object to Russia coordinating the talks with the Syrian government. “The Syrian opposition needs all the help there is. Considering the good relations between the Russian and Syrian nations, Russia has a good chance of playing this part,” George Sabra, a senior member of the Syrian National Council, told Interfax news agency yesterday.
Al-Assad also expressed interest in the continuation and expansion of an Arab League observer mission in Syria, Lavrov said, after what he called “very useful meetings with the leadership” of Syria, Interfax reported.
“Syria has informed the Arab League that it is interested in the League’s mission continuing its work, and being increased in terms of quantity,” Lavrov said. “Necessary reforms must be implemented in order to address the legitimate demands of people striving for a better life.”
Lavrov’s convoy snaked its way along the Mazzeh Boulevard, amidst a sea of al-Assad supporters who had turned up to express gratitude for Moscow’s stance. He and Russia’s foreign intelligence chief, Mikhail Fradkov, were headed to the presidential palace to meet al-Assad. “Thank you Russia and China” read one banner that had the photos of both al-Assad and the Russian president.
Meanwhile, the violence continued, with regime forces keeping up an assault on Homs, Syria’s third largest city. Activists reported that at least 15 people, including a 15-year-old boy, were killed in violence across the country. Syria has blocked access to trouble spots and prevented independent reporting.
Moscow and Beijing Feb. 4 vetoed a U.N. Security council resolution backing an Arab League call for Assad to yield power and start a political transition. European Union states followed up their denunciation of the veto by preparing a new round of sanctions on Syria, with the focus on central bank assets and trade in precious metals, gold and diamonds, EU diplomats said Tuesday.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.