Russia says Assad resignation "unrealistic"
Published Monday, July 16, 2012
Calls for Russia to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down are unrealistic as the Syrian leader still enjoys the support of much of the population, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday.
"It is simply unrealistic...he will not leave power. And this is not because we are protecting him but because there is a very significant part of the Syrian population behind him," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.
The Syrian National Council, the Western-backed opposition to Assad's rule, has demanded the dictator step down before beginning any negotiations.
Russia has said that such demands are not part of the international peace plan laid out by UN envoy Kofi Annan.
Lavrov also accused Western powers of using "blackmail" to get backing for possible UN Security Council sanctions against the Syrian regime.
"To our great regret, we are witnessing elements of blackmail," said Lavrov, claiming the West had told Russia to either back the measure or it would "refuse to extend the mandate of the (UN) observer mission."
The mandate for the Annan-led observer mission, which Russia supports, is due to be extended this month and Lavrov warned any attempts to use it as a political tool would harm the Syrian people.
"If our Western partners do not recognize the fact that if they block our resolution to the conflict then the UN observer mission will have to withdraw from Syria, it will be regrettable indeed," he added.
The remarks come following an alleged massacre in the Syrian village of Traimseh last week, in which at least 50 people were killed.
Both Russia and the West have condemned the massacre, although Russia did not apportion blame for the incident, which the government and the opposition dispute.
Clashes in Damascus
Elsewhere reports on Monday said Syria's military had deployed armored vehicles near central Damascus as troops battled rebels around the capital.
An activist on the ground told AFP the army was trying to overrun al-Midan in the second day of fighting in the capital.
"The army is trying to storm Al-Midan from two sides, with military vehicles," he said. "There are many injured and some killed. We need blood donations."
Activists said the army and Free Syrian Army rebels had been locked in fierce clashes since Sunday in the southern Damascus neighborhood of Tadamon, Kfar Sousa in the west and Jobar in the east.
They said the clashes are the worst in the city since the start of the uprising in March 2011.
Accounts of violence are difficult to independently verify due to tight media restrictions and the deteriorating security situation for journalists.
(Al-Akhbar, UPI, AFP, Russia Today)