Deepening the isolation of the Assad regime, Morocco ordered Syria’s ambassador to leave the North African kingdom and called for a transition to democracy in Syria, the Reuters news agency reported. The Assad government retaliated by ordering the expulsion of Morocco’s ambassador to Syria.
But Russia has remained steadfast in its refusal to abandon its alliance with the government in Damascus.
A Russian ship carrying repaired helicopters — which had set sail for Syria under a Curacao flag but turned back when it lost its insurance — is expected to sail to Syria from St. Petersburg, according to the Interfax news agency. Russia says it is not arming Assad but is complying with existing maintenance contracts.
At the United Nations, American and European diplomats on Monday abandoned an effort to adopt a Security Council statement condemning Syria’s “outrageous use of force” last week in the western village of Tremseh, citing Russia’s decision late Friday to block the statement.
The Security Council remained deeply divided, with the United States and its European allies favoring the adoption of a resolution threatening sanctions against Damascus if it failed to halt its shelling of residential areas. Russia’s vehement opposition to sanctions has raised concerns that it may be preparing its third veto of a Western-backed resolution aimed at punishing Assad for his excessive use of force in civilian areas.
Russia has circulated a draft resolution that would urge the Syrian government and the
opposition to reach agreement through talks but would not include any measures compelling them to do so.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking at a news conference in Moscow, said Assad will not be forced from power — not because Russia protects him, but because he still has strong support within Syria. “We have been hearing statements that a key to the Syrian settlement is in Moscow,” he said. “They tell us that we should persuade Assad to step down of his own free will. That is simply not realistic.”
Lavrov met later with Kofi Annan, the U.N. special envoy who has been trying to work out a peace plan for Syria — an effort that Russia says it backs. Annan plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was headed to Beijing Tuesday to press Chinese leaders to back a stronger Security Council response to Syria. Ban will speak with President Hu Jintao on Wednesday.
The fighting in Damascus on Sunday and Monday was concentrated primarily in southern neighborhoods, including Tadamon, Kfar Sousa, Nahr Aisha and Maidan. But residents reached by telephone said it appeared to be moving closer to the city center. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, reported a series of explosions Monday in Yarmouk, a neighborhood where most residents are Palestinian refugees.