Russia blames Syrian opposition for failure to halt conflict
By Kathy Lally and Will Englund,
MOSCOW — Russia’s foreign minister declared a deadlock Saturday in the latest efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, blaming the Syrian opposition for refusing to negotiate with the government and reiterating that Moscow will not force President Bashar al-Assad to leave.
Sergei Lavrov met here earlier with Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, and though both men warned that the conflict poses an increasing danger to the entire Middle East, they offered no hope of a breakthrough.
“As concerns Bashar Assad, he repeatedly said, publicly and privately — including during a recent meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus — that he is not going to go anywhere, that he will stay until the end and, as he put it, defend the Syrian people, Syria’s sovereignty and so on,” Lavrov said at a news conference with Brahimi.
Lavrov added that Russia could not persuade Assad to leave even if it wanted to.
Brahimi said Syria faces a choice between a political solution and a descent into “hell.” He also warned that the sectarian conflict that has engulfed the country has the potential to spread to its neighbors.
“If you have 1 million people leaving Damascus in a panic, they can go to only two places — Lebanon and Jordan,” he said, noting that such an influx would create an unsupportable burden for those countries.
The only alternative, he said, was a political agreement within Syria. “All of us have got to work ceaselessly for a political process,” he said.
Brahimi has proposed the creation of a national unity government, but the opposition has insisted that Assad himself cannot take part in it. That means, Lavrov said, that the opposition is to blame for the continuing violence.
He repeated Russia’s insistence that a political solution had to be achieved by the Syrians themselves, without outside participation. He also faulted the opposition, which on Friday turned down an invitation to visit Moscow, for thwarting an end to the conflict.
“We are sure that this is a deadlock position, which will continue to degrade,” he said.
Lavrov rebuked Mouaz al-Khatib, leader of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, for rejecting the invitation and demanding that Russia apologize for supporting Assad.
“It was quite a surprise to me to read his statement that he was willing to meet with me only if we change our position and if we apologize for our position publicly,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov also emphasized Russia’s opposition to armed intervention in Syria, and insisted once again that Moscow has not been shipping arms to Assad. Russia, he said, favors the revival of an agreement struck in Geneva in June supporting a transitional government that would rule until elections could be held.
The comments by Brahimi and Lavrov came on a particularly bloody day in Syria, with at least 364 people killed, according to the Local Coordination Committees network.
The Syrian military “field-executed” up to 220 people in the Deir Baalba neighborhood of the central city of Homs, the group said in a statement. At least 35 people were also reported killed in Aleppo province amid shelling and airstrikes.
A video posted online Saturday shows the body of a child being dug out of rubble in Azaz, near the Turkish border. A second video shows a man carrying the child’s body as a group of men gather and shout, “God is great!”
The official Syrian Arab News Agency also reported the military attacks across the country, noting that a number of “terrorists” had been killed and that heavy weapons had been confiscated. Government-run media in Syria often refer to rebel forces as terrorists.
Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut contributed to this report.