Russia urges Damascus to back Annan mission
MOSCOW / ISTANBULMoscow has encouraged Damascus to cooperate with U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and urged the West to do the same with rebels, Russia’s foreign minister said March 16 as Syrian troops clashed with defectors near the capital.
“It’s not only us and China who should be sending signals to Damascus so that it fully cooperates with Kofi Annan’s mission, but other Security Council members also need to do their part of the work and urge the opposition not to provoke the exacerbation of tensions, but similarly cooperate with Kofi Annan and respond constructively to his proposals,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference, the Associated Press reported.
Lavrov criticizes opposition
Annan met twice with al-Assad last weekend and made proposals to end the bloodshed. Lavrov also accused the Syrian opposition of stonewalling Annan’s mission just as Moscow was prodding al-Assad to cooperate. “It was a bit strange when two days after [Annan’s] first visit to Damascus, representatives of the opposition Syrian National Council declared that his mission had failed,” he said.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah also urged all parties to the conflict in Syria to lay down their weapons, Agence France-Presse reported. Hezbollah is a close ally of the Syria and is also backed by Iran.
Iraq, however, changed its stance on Syria. Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi said Iraq was standing by the Syrian people, Anatolia news agency reported. “Iraqi political circles think that the Syrian administration is not permanent and are therefore supporting a democratic solution in Syria,” al-Nujaifi told Dar el-Hayat newspaper. Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a clash in Tal, on the outskirts of Damascus, lasted until the early hours of March 16. The observatory and the local coordination committees said there were also clashes in other areas near Damascus, including Dumair and Qatana on the night of March 15. Both groups also reported clashes between troops and army defectors in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor.