Russia keeps up opposition to Syria peace plan

By Donald Macintyre

Russia yesterday made clear that it would not support a new proposal for a joint Arab-United Nations peacekeeping mission to Syria unless the violence were to end first, making the chances for the plan look unlikely as Moscow continues to hamper international efforts for a resolution.

In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that international pressure to end the bloodshed should focus on the opposition as well as on Bashar al-Assad's regime. He said that peacekeeping troops could not be considered until there was an end to attacks, including what he described as opposition by armed groups.

China, which this month joined Russia in vetoing a UN Security Council call for Assad to step down, has refused to be drawn on its position on the plan. The cool reception from Damascus' two allies for the proposal made by the Arab League is likely to see those backing the plan hamstrung.

Syria is a major arms client of Russia, accounting for 7 per cent of Moscow's US$10 billion ($12 billion) arms sales in 2010, and hosts a key Middle Eastern base for the Russian navy near the port of Tartus. Navi Pillay, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, yesterday said that the inability to put out any kind resolution had increased the bloodshed.

"The failure of the Security Council to agree on firm collective action appears to have emboldened the Syrian Government to launch an all-out assault in an effort to crush dissent with overwhelming force," she said.

The diplomatic sparring came as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that an attempt by regime tanks to retake the town of Rastan in Homs province was repelled by anti-Assad forces. It said that three soldiers had been killed in the assault. The bombardment of the rebel-held Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs city, which has been under siege for more than a week, continued, it said.

William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, said yesterday that an Arab-UN mission could have an "important role in saving lives", and that Britain would be discussing the proposal with the Arab League and "international partners" ahead of a Friends of Syria summit scheduled for February 25 in Tunisia.

- Independent

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