Russia joins Syria truce calls as fighting rages


Russia has added its voice to growing calls for a humanitarian truce in Syria, a move hailed by the US after deadly clashes rocked a district of the capital near the heart of the embattled regime.
France meanwhile pressed the UN Security Council to adopt a statement backing international envoy Kofi Annan’s mission to end the bloodshed that has cost an estimated 9,100 lives in the past year.
President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces launched attacks in several regions, opposition activists said.
Pre-dawn fighting in a heavily guarded area of Damascus, the capital’s fiercest since the revolt against Assad’s regime erupted, came as residents still reeled from deadly weekend bombings.
At least three rebels and a member of the security forces were killed in the upscale western neighbourhood of Mazzeh, state television and monitors said.
“Three terrorists were killed and a fourth was arrested in the fighting between security forces and an armed terrorist gang sheltered in a house of a residential district,” the TV reported.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said four rebels were killed.
Mourtada Rasheed, an activist in Damascus, said blasts and heavy shooting could be heard in Mazzeh and two other districts — Qaboon and Arbeen.
In Mazzeh, overlooked by Assad’s clifftop presidential palace and home to several embassies, terrified locals were awakened before dawn by the rattle of gunfire.
Against this backdrop of violence the new Syria statement, calling for possible “further measures” unless Assad carries out UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, could be voted Tuesday by the UN Security Council.
First talks on the statement will be held on Tuesday and France’s UN envoy Gerard Araud said he hoped it would be adopted the same day.
The statement, obtained by AFP, expresses the “gravest concern” at the deteriorating crisis in Syria and “profound regret” at the thousands of dead over the past year.
It calls on Assad and Syria’s opposition to “implement fully and immediately” Annan’s six-point peace plan. It says the council will “consider further measures” if nothing is done within seven days of any adoption.
Russia and China have twice used their powers as permanent members of the 15-nation council to veto resolutions on Syria. They said the resolutions aimed at regime change and that they opposed any sanctions.
While both have since put increased pressure on the Syrian government, diplomats said both could oppose the reference to new measures.
But in a new sign of the diplomatic urgency over Syria, the Security Council is also negotiating a press statement proposed by Russia condemning the bomb attacks in Damascus and Aleppo at the weekend.
Araud said the presidential statement is “very limited” to Annan’s mission in a bid to reduce any potential opposition.
In Russia, International Committee of the Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country is an ally of Damascus and has some influence on the regime.
“The two parties call for the Syrian government and armed groups to immediately agree to a daily humanitarian truce to allow the ICRC access to the wounded and to civilians who need to be evacuated,” the foreign ministry said.
Moscow “underscored the need to allow the ICRC access to all detained persons in Syria following the protests” against Assad’s regime.
The United States welcomed what it saw as a change in the Russian stance.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that she noticed “an evolution in the Russian public position” on Syria, saying recent comments by Moscow were “good steps.”
Meanwhile, a mission sent by former UN secretary general Annan arrived in Damascus for talks on a monitoring operation to end the conflict.
“There are five people with expertise in political, peacekeeping and mediation,” Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told AFP.
“They will be staying for as long as they are making progress on reaching agreement on practical steps to implement Mr Annan’s proposals,” he added.
The Annan proposal includes a halt to the violence, humanitarian access, the release of detainees held over the past year and withdrawal of security forces from protest cities.
As a condition for ceasefire talks, the Damascus government insisted that the opposition had to lay down its arms, diplomats at the United Nations said.
At the same time, neighbouring countries had to guarantee they would not send weapons to Syrian groups or give political or financial support to the opposition, they told AFP.
Separately, technical experts from the UN and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation are taking part in a Syrian government-led mission to assess the impact of the deadly crackdown.
The mission to 15 cities, on the first such assignment in Syria since the violence started, was launched in Homs on Sunday.
Monday’s clashes in the capital came after twin car bombs ripped through two neighbourhoods of Damascus on Saturday, killing 27 people, according to an interior ministry toll.
Outside of Damascus troops backed by dozens of tanks raided districts of Deir Ezzor city in eastern Syria, the Observatory said.
And troops bombarded the Bab Sbaa, Khalidiyeh and Karm al-Shami districts of Homs, the monitoring group said.
Troops in the northwestern province of Idlib attacked Abdita, home village of defector Colonel Riyadh Asaad, head of the Turkey-based rebel Free Syrian Army, local activist Nurredin al-Abdo told AFP.