Rebels will never defeat al-Assad’s army: Russia

Rebels will never defeat al-Assad’s army: Russia

Rebels will never defeat al-Assad’s army: Russia

Free Syrian Army fighters train in a neighborhood of Damascus, Syria in this April 1 photo. Government and opposition forces clashed across Syria, as Red Cross unloaded aid in Daraa and readied for distribution, according to Red Cross Spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh.

Russia stepped up its backing of Damascus yesterday, saying that the rebels would never defeat the Syrian army even if “armed to the teeth,” and also warning the West that arming the rebels would lead to more bloodshed.

“Even if they arm the Syrian opposition to the teeth, it won’t be able to defeat the Syrian army,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a trip to Azerbaijan. “Instead, there will be carnage that lasts many, many years -- mutual destruction.” Lavrov said that two groups of Syrian opposition representatives will be visiting Moscow in the coming days and that Russia will be using the meetings to convince them that it wants to help resolve the year-long crisis. Lavrov reaffirmed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad needs to take the first step to end bloodshed, but all international players need to back international envoy Kofi Annan’s proposals.

Meanwhile, Syrian troops yesterday clashed with army defectors and shelled rebellious districts in the central city of Homs, killing at least 11 civilians a day after the government claimed it had begun a troop withdrawal ahead of the deadline to implement an international truce plan.

“Forces began withdrawing to outside calm cities and are returning to their bases, while in tense areas, they are pulling out to the outskirts,” the government official said in Damascus, without saying when the withdrawal began. He spoke on condition of anonymity. In Homs, a bastion of dissent against al-Assad’s regime, opposition figure Mohammed Saleh said a series of loud blasts rattled windows in his home, and heavy machine gun fire was heard across parts of the old city. “There is no sign of any withdrawal or calm in Homs,” Saleh said.

Violence continues despite pledge to pull out

“From the Turkish border in the northeast to Daraa in the south, military operations are ongoing,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Observatory said that a total of 58 civilians were killed on April 3, including 20 who died in military assaults and in fighting between troops and rebels in the Taftanaz region of restive northwestern Idlib province. Another 15 civilians were killed when the army pounded rebel holdouts in the central city of Homs, while the remainder died in other flashpoints across the country, the Observatory said. It added that 18 soldiers were killed in Homs, Idlib and the southern Daraa province, while four army deserters died in Idlib.

Red Cross in Daraa

Meanwhile, International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger travelled yesterday to Daraa to assess humanitarian needs there, the ICRC said. Two trucks filled with food aid and hygiene kits, as well as 500 blankets, were unloaded at Red Cross depots in Daraa ready for distribution, ICRC spokesman in Damascus Saleh Dabbakeh said.
The United States on April 3 accused al-Assad of failing to honor his pledged troop withdrawal. “The assertion to Kofi Annan was that al-Assad would start implementing his commitments immediately to withdraw from cities. I want to advise that we have seen no evidence today that he is implementing any of those commitments,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

With international concern at the situation growing, a draft U.N. Security Council statement was drawn up asking Syria to respect the April 10 deadline, according to a copy of the text. The draft also urges the Syrian opposition to cease hostilities within 48 hours after al-Assad’s regime makes good on its pledges. It also calls on all parties to respect a two-hour daily humanitarian pause, as called for in Annan’s plan.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.