AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
DAMASCUS: At least seven people were killed across Syria today as Russian media reported the West is seeking to persuade Moscow to host President Bashar al-Assad in exile as a way out of the escalating crisis.
Russia has indicated it will stay away from a Paris meeting on the situation in its key Middle East ally after accusing the West of seeking to distort a deal for a political transition in the violence-hit nation.
Moscow’s move to shun Friday’s “Friends of Syria” gathering comes after UN and Arab League international peace envoy Kofi Annan said a ceasefire was imperative.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has hailed the Geneva accord based on proposals by Annan as an “important step,” but said Western capitals had read more into the final statement than what was written on paper.
World powers agreed a plan for a Syria transition that did not make an explicit call for Assad to quit power, but the West swiftly made clear it saw no role for him in a unity government.
“These (Geneva) agreements are not there to be interpreted. They mean exactly what is said in the communique and we need to follow the agreements that were made,” Lavrov said.
His comments came soon after Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters on Tuesday that a “shift” in positions by Russia and its diplomatic ally China at the Geneva talks should not be underestimated.
Russia’s Kommersant daily reported that Western nations led by the United States are seeking to persuade Moscow to host Assad in exile.
Quoting a Russian diplomatic source, it said there were “active attempts” to persuade Moscow to offer a home to Assad, whose fate has become a major sticking point.
But Russia has so far not been receptive to the idea, even though Kremlin sources put Assad’s chances of political survival at “10 percent,” it said.
The Observatory today reported dawn clashes south of Damascus near a branch of the feared air force intelligence service. It also reported at least seven people killed nationwide, among them four civilians in the village of Maaret al-Numan in the northwest province of Idlib.
An activist told AFP by Skype that in the central city of Homs, regime forces were bombarding two rebel districts, Sultaniyeh amd Jobar, and that Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels were fighting to retake Baba Amr.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Russians were free to decide whether to attend the Paris talks or not.
China said on Wednesday its position on plans for a transition of power in Syria remained firm, and that it wanted the “spirit” of the Geneva agreement to be followed.
A two-day meeting of opposition groups held behind closed doors in Cairo ended on Wednesday after being boycotted by two of the largest groups — the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) and the FSA.
Participants said the talks descended into chaos and even fist fights, and that delegates had failed to present a united bloc.
Meanwhile, Assad accused Turkey in an interview published today of giving logistical backing to Syrian “terrorists.” “Turkey’s interference in Syria’s internal affairs has put it in a position that makes it a party to all bloody activities,” he said.
“Turkey has supplied all logistic support to the terrorists who have killed our people.”
‘Too much empty talk’
DAMASCUS: The chief UN observer in Syria criticised the international community on Wednesday for talking too much in luxurious settings, and doing too little on the ground to stop the horrific violence. “There is this feeling that it’s too much talk in nice hotels, in nice meetings and too little action to move forward and stop the violence,” Major General Robert Mood told reporters in Damascus. Mood returned to Damascus from Geneva, following a meeting on Saturday where world powers agreed on a plan for a transition in Syria, which did not call on Assad to quit power. However, the West swiftly made clear it saw no role for Assad in a unity government.