Russia shifts Syria stance on uprising’s anniversary
Syrian refugees arrive at the Turkish border in Antakya, on March 14. The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has reached13,669. AFP PhotoRegime forces seized another rebel city, activists said Wednesday, as UN-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan and Russia urged President Bashar al-Assad to speed up efforts to end the bloodletting in Syria.
On the eve of the first anniversary of an anti-Assad revolt, the opposition suffered setbacks on both the military and political fronts as its Syrian National Council (SNC) coalition was hit by resignations.
International peace envoy Kofi Annan, meanwhile, said he had received Assad’s response to proposals which he submitted in talks with the Syrian leader last week but had more questions which needed to be addressed without delay.
Syria, however, said yesterday it had given a positive response to Annan’s proposals for ending violence after a year of protests against al-Assad. “The tone of our reply was positive,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi told reporters in Damascus, adding Syria had offered “clarifications” on implementing some of the proposals.
Russia, which has been accused of weakening the international response to the crisis by blocking U.N. Security Council action, yesterday criticized Assad for his “big delay” in implementing reforms, at the risk of escalating the crisis.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Assad of “inertia.” “The side in the conflict in Syria on which we have influence is the government of Bashar al-Assad. Unfortunately, his actions, in practical terms, reflect our advice far from always and far from swiftly,” Lavrov said.
“Yes he has adopted useful laws to renew the system, but with a big delay,” he told the lower house parliament, the State Duma.
“Meanwhile, the armed resistance is gaining its own dynamic and this inertia can end up engulfing everyone,” Lavrov warned. “It is the people who should be deciding who is in power in Syria,” Lavrov told a parliamentary hearing. Lavrov also said that Russia isn’t supplying any arms that could be used against protesters saying that “we are only helping Syria to protect its security against external threats.” Moscow has protected Syria, its key ally since the Soviet times, from U.N. sanctions over the Assad regime’s bloody suppression of a yearlong uprising.
Masacre pictures revealed
Meanwhile, Britain wants to see a transition of power to the opposition in Syria rather than a revolutionary overthrow of al-Assad, Prime Minister David Cameron said late on March 13. “The shortest way of ending the violence is a transition where Assad goes, rather than a revolution from the bottom.” Pictures showing massacre of civillians in the Karm az-Zaytun neighbourhood in the restive city of Homs, were revealed yesterday showing an old women killed with a gunshot.
Noureddin al-Abdo, an activist in Idlib, confirmed that the city in northwestern Syria had fallen after a four-day assault by regime forces. The outgunned, rebel “Free Syrian Army (FSA) has withdrawn and regime forces have stormed the entire city and are carrying out house-to-house searches,” said Abdo. At least 10 people had been killed across Syria yesterday. The capture of Idlib comes two weeks after regime forces stormed the Baba Amr rebel stronghold in the central city of Homs following a month-long blitz that left hundreds dead.
Assad on March 13 issued a decree setting May 7 as the date for parliamentary elections under a new constitution adopted in February. But Washington immediately dismissed the vote as “ridiculous.” Diplomats in France said yesterday that Paris has sent its senior human rights envoy, Francois Zimeray, to countries bordering Syria to collect evidence for an eventual prosecution of Assad regime members before the International Criminal Court. The U.N. human rights office is also to send observers to Syria’s neighbors to collect evidence and document. Italy said yesterday it was closing its embassy in Damascus.