Russia yesterday made clear that it would not support a new proposal for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission to Syria unless the violence would have ends first, leaving any action unlikely as Moscow continues to hamper international efforts for a resolution.
In Moscow, foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that international pressure to end the mounting bloodshed should focus on the opposition as well as on Bashar Assad’s regime. He said peacekeeping troops could not be considered until there is an end to attacks, including what he described as opposition by armed groups which were “not under control”.
China, which earlier this month joined Russia in vetoing a UN Security Council call for President Assad to step down, has refused to be drawn on its position on the peacekeeping plan.
The cool reception from Damascus’ two allies, both of whom wield vetoes on the Security Council, for the proposal made by the Arab League on Sunday, is likely to see those backing the plan hamstrung.
Navi Pillay, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, yesterday told the general assembly that the inability of the body to put out any kind resolution on Syria 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 Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported amid continued fighting 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 Observatory also said that troops again bombarded the rebel-held Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs, which has come under ferocious regime assault during a siege of more than a week. It also reported fighting between Army defectors and troops in the village of Busra al-Harir in the southern province of Daraa. And it said that a civilian had been shot dead by a sniper in the central city of Hama while 45 vehicles, including tanks, arrived in the town of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib region.
William Hague, the British foreign secretary said yesterday that an Arab-UN mission could have an “important role in saving lives”, and that the UK would be discussing the proposal with the Arab League and “international partners” ahead of a “Friends of Syria summit scheduled for February 24 in Tunisia.
But Mr Lavrov, while saying that Russia was “studying” the Arab-UN proposal made by the Arab League on Sunday and seeking “clarification” of some of its elements, insisted that it required “peace first” to be effective.
He said that any cessation of violence which has already left more than 5,400 dead, must be “universal” and added: “In other words, it is necessary to agree to something like a ceasefire but the tragedy is that the armed groups that are confronting the forces of the regime are not subordinate to anyone and are not under control.”
Syria is a major arms client of Russia, accounting for seven percent of Moscow’s $10bn of arms sales in 2010 and hosts a key Middle Eastern base for the Russian navy near Tartus.
Meanwhile China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin refused to be drawn by repeated questions over whether Beijing would support the joint mission proposal, saying only that China backs the Arab League’s “political mediation efforts.”
On Sunday, the Arab League also called for an end to diplomatic contacts with Damascus, for a tightening of trade sanctions, for opposition groups to unite, and for them to be supplied with “political and material” support.