Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he has told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Moscow wants to see peace in the Arab world and a solution to Syria’s crisis based on the plan put forward by the Arab League, during talks today in Damascus.
According to Russia’s RIA news agency, Lavrov told Assad: “Every leader of every country must be aware of his share of responsibility. You are aware of yours. It is in our interests for Arab peoples to live in peace and agreement,” Reuters reported.
Syrian government forces continued to bombard the restive city of Homs on Tuesday as Lavrov arrived in the country for talks aimed at securing “the swiftest stabilization of the situation.”
His visit comes three days after Russia and China vetoed an Arab-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime’s bloody crackdown on a popular revolt inside Syria and calling on the president to transfer some of his powers to his deputy.
The foreign minister said western criticism of the double veto verged on “hysteria,” and that Russia had asked for the vote to be delayed until after his visit to the country.
Russia’s foreign intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov has accompanied Lavrov to Syria, the Associated Press reported. Both were greeted by thousands of pro-Assad supporters as they arrived in Damascus.
Russia is Syria’s main supplier of arms. Yesterday the US shut its embassy in Damascus and the UK and Belgium recalled their ambassadors.
Homs, a rebel stronghold and base for armed opposition to Assad, has been pounded with heavy shelling by government forces since last week.
Today’s fresh assault comes after 95 people were killed on Monday, Reuters reported, with more than 200 killed in the city on Friday night. Activists say that 19 people have been killed and at least 40 have been wounded so far in Tuesday’s barrage. Residents fear that troops are planning to launch a ground assault, according to the BBC.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged Lavrov to “use this opportunity to make absolutely clear to the Assad regime how isolated it is and to encourage Assad and his people to make use of the Arab League plan and provide for a transition.”
Human rights groups say that more than 7000 people have been killed by Syrian security forces since protests began last March. The government says it is fighting foreign-backed armed gangs.