EU presses Russia on Syria amid fresh clashes

EU presses Russia on Syria amid fresh clashes

EU presses Russia on Syria amid fresh clashes

AFP photo

Syrian government troops fought deadly battles with armed rebels as the European Union yesterday intensified diplomacy with Russia to overcome differences over Syria to end 15 months of bloodshed.

In talks at Saint Petersburg with Russian President Vladimir Putin, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said the EU and Russia “might have some divergent assessments” of the situation in Syria. 

The meeting came a day after President Bashar al-Assad vowed to crush an anti-regime uprising after the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced on June 1 that it was resuming “defensive operations.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 19 soldiers, eight rebels and 19 civilians were killed in violence across the country on June 3. Fresh clashes erupted between the regime and its foes in Idlib province late on June 3, killing two opposition fighters, the Observatory said. Fighting continued yesterday with the Observatory saying Syrian forces used helicopter gunships to strafe positions in the northeastern province of Deir ez-Zor, while at least eight people died in violence across Syria. Syrian rebels killed at least 80 government soldiers over the weekend in intensified attacks on army checkpoints and clashes with forces loyal to al-Assad, Observatory said yesterday.

Rebels no longer committed to Annan plan 

A spokesman said Syrian rebels are no longer committed to a U.N.-backed peace plan that has failed to end violence in the country and have launched attacks on government forces to “defend our people”, a spokesman said on Monday. 

“We have decided to end our commitment to this (plan) and starting from that date (Friday) we began defending our people,” Major Sami al-Kurdi, a spokesman for the rebel military council said, referring to a deadline of Friday they gave to al-Assad. Rebels’ statement came hours after EU leaders agreed with the Russian president that a U.N.-backed six-point peace plan “as a whole provides the best opportunity to break the cycle of violence in Syria, avoiding a civil war,” Van Rompuy said. 

Also pushing for a transition was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on June 3 that she “made it very clear” to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a phone call at the weekend that the focus was shifting to a political transition in Syria rather than talks with Assad’s regime.

 “Al-Assad’s departure does not have to be a precondition but it should be an outcome,” Clinton said. Clinton said Lavrov also spoke of transition in their private talks. “He himself has referred to the Yemen example,” Clinton said, referring to the deal this year that saw longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh step down and his vice president lead a caretaker government.

Annan: Support peace plan or find a Plan B

Meanwhile Annan has demanded a “serious review” of deadlocked efforts to end the bloodshed and is stepping up pressure on international powers to put some muscle into their support for his peace plan or find a Plan B, diplomats said in New York. “The time is coming, if it is not already here, for a serious review,” Annan told Arab League ministers in Doha on June 2. Annan will discuss the Syria crisis at the Security Council and U.N. General Assembly on June 7.