Russia, Britain warn of Syrian civil war
Russia and Britain warned on Friday that Syria was on the verge of civil war between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and armed rebels, echoing earlier comments made by UN chief Ban Ki-Moon.
Ban said the massacres of the sort seen last week near the central town of Houla, in which at least 108 people were killed, "could plunge Syria into a catastrophic civil war, a civil war from which the country would never recover."
The Syrian government condemned the comments, saying Ban had undermined prospects for peace.
But both Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who have often been on opposite sides of the ongoing crisis, echoed the warning.
Speaking after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Putin said he saw signs that civil war was breaking out while Hague said the country was on a knife edge.
"Today we are seeing emerging elements of civil war," Putin told reporters. "It is extremely dangerous."
“Syria is on the edge of a catastrophic situation... on the edge of an all-out civil war and the collapse of Syria into sectarian strife," Hague said.
UN and Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan said he was"frustrated" over the bloodshed, but urged all sides to stick to his faltering April 12 ceasefire.
Annan urged all sides to return to the negotiating table and called for Assad to back the plan.
"Bold action has to be taken by President Assad in Syria to put real energy into the implementation of the six-point peace plan," Annan said after talks in Beirut with top Lebanese officials.
"We are all impatient and frustrated over the violence, over the killings. I am frustrated even more maybe than most of you," said Annan. "I really want to see things move much faster than they have done," he added.
The warnings appear to have gone unheeded in Syria after 12 factory workers were forced off a bus and killed on Thursday in al-Buwaida al-Sharqiya, near the western town of Qusair.
Several videos posted online showed bodies with severe wounds to the head and stomach, consistent with being shot at close range.
Opposition activists accused pro-regime militias of the slayings, while the government blamed "armed terrorists."
Neither claim could be independently verified.
Also on Friday, an initial report of a government-run investigation into the killings found that the victims were peaceful families who had refused to stand up to the government.
They had been shot at close range by “terrorist groups,” the report said.