Russia offers "full support" for peace efforts. Syrian forces attack rebel strongholds..Rights group accuses Syrian of using human shields.
Russia offered "full support" for peace envoy
Kofi Annan's efforts to end fighting in Syria on Sunday but said his mission
would need more time as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad attacked Homs
and other rebel strongholds.
Moscow also suggested foreign support for the Syrian
opposition was the main obstacle to peace while U.S. President Barack Obama and
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan discussed how to get non-lethal aid to
Western and Arab states have urged Assad to step aside to
end violence which the U.N. says has cost 8,000 lives. Russia, a close ally of
Assad, said he is ready to talk to his foes on reform and it is the rebels who
must be pressed to negotiate.
With the Syrian army on the offensive around the country
and the deeply divided opposition fearing Assad would use any talks to
strengthen his forces' position and crack down harder, the prospect of a
negotiated peace seemed more remote than ever.
Syrian activists said 27 people had been killed on
Sunday, including 15 civilians, and a U.S.-based human rights group accused
Assad's forces of using human shields in their efforts to crush the rebellion,
which began more than a year ago.
"Syrian government forces have endangered local
residents by forcing them to march in front of the army during recent arrest
operations, troop movements, and attacks on towns and villages in northern
Syria," Human Rights Watch said, quoting residents from Syria's
northwestern province of Idlib.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who will join Obama
for a nuclear security summit in South Korea on Monday, told Annan, the Syria
envoy for the United Nations and Arab League, he appreciated his efforts to end
"This may be the last chance for Syria to avoid a
long-lasting and bloody civil war. Therefore we will offer you our full support
at any level and in various ways in those areas, of course, in which Russia is
capable of providing support."
It was not clear whether Moscow would increase pressure
on Assad to comply with Annan's peace plan, which includes demands for a
ceasefire, the immediate withdrawal of heavy armour from residential areas and
access for humanitarian aid.
Russia has shielded Assad from U.N. Security Council
condemnation by vetoing two Western-backed resolutions over the bloodshed, but
has criticised the Syrian leader recently and approved a Security Council
statement this week endorsing Annan's mission.
The former U.N. chief is due to fly to China, which
joined Russia in the vetoes, after his talks in Russia.
"Syria has an opportunity today to work with me and
this mediation process to put an end to the conflict, to the fighting, allow
access to those in need of humanitarian assistance as well as embark on a
political process that will lead to a peaceful settlement," Annan said at
the start of his talks with Medvedev at a Moscow airport.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said
Annan's mission must be given more time before the Security Council considers
further action. The Security Council statement this week threatened Syria with
unspecified "further steps" if it failed to comply with Annan's plan.
"There are no deadlines, we need to see how the
situation develops," the Interfax news agency quoted Gatilov as saying.
Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said he had "very
candid and comprehensive discussions" in Moscow. Annan was "grateful
for Russia's firm support for his mediation efforts in order to reach a swift
and peaceful solution to this bloody conflict" and asked Russia to continue
Moscow has accused the West and Gulf Arab nations of
being too one-sided, arguing that foreign political support for the opposition
and contraband weapons supplies to rebels fuel the fighting in Syria, which
hosts a Russian naval base.
Western and Arab leaders are due to meet in Istanbul next
week to back the revolt against Assad and the Arab League and Turkey were
pressing the opposition to unite beforehand.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Annan to
work with both government and opposition and said his mission needed full
international support, the Foreign Ministry said.
"This entails non-interference in Syria's internal
affairs and inadmissibility of supporting one side in the conflict," the
ministry said in a statement after their meeting.
In the Korean capital Seoul, Obama and Erdogan discussed
providing medical supplies and communications support to the Syrian opposition
but there was no talk of providing lethal aid to the rebels.
"We worked on a common agenda in terms of how we can
support both humanitarian efforts ... (and) the efforts of Kofi Annan to bring
about much needed change (in Syria)," Obama said after his meeting with
Erdogan, a sharp critic of Assad.
New York-based Human Rights Watch published videos,
obtained from opposition activists, in which people in civilian clothes walk in
front of several armed soldiers and infantry fighting vehicles. Activists say
the army had compelled the men to walk in front to protect the soldiers.
The statement said that residents reported government
forces placing children on tanks and inside security buses.
"The Syrian army's use of human shields is yet
another reason why the UN Security Council should refer Syria to the
International Criminal Court," said Ole Solvang, a HRW emergencies
It was impossible to verify reports independently because
Syrian authorities have prevented foreign journalists and human rights workers
from entering affected areas.
Syria says rebels have killed about 3,000 members of the
security forces and blames the violence on "terrorist" gangs.
Syrian troops have repeatedly targeted Homs, Syria's
third largest city, and said last month they had regained control of Baba Amr,
a neighbourhood held by rebels for several months.
However, a surge in violence in other neighbourhoods this
week suggested the army was struggling to keep control.
Waleed al-Faris, an opposition activist from Homs, told
Reuters that Sunday's shelling, using tank and mortar fire, was the worst he
"There are ten dead and hundreds wounded," he
said. "I have not experienced shelling this heavy since Baba Amr."
In the southern province of Deraa, birthplace of the
revolt, government forces and rebels clashed on Sunday.
"Thousands of soldiers and over a hundred military
vehicles are attempting to enter the area of Lahat in Deraa province today, but
they are clashing with rebels," said Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights, adding that at least five soldiers and three
rebels had been killed.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said six
"terrorists" had been killed on during dawn raid on a hideout in
The SOHR said 27 were killed around Syria on Sunday, 15
of them civilians, during heavy shelling in the central city of Homs and
northwestern province of Idlib.
In the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, Syrian troops
conducted house-to-house raids in search of dissidents, SOHR said.