Russian FM Sergei Lavrov is preparing to meet Arab foreign ministers in the Egyptian capital
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, seen here on March 5, has made clear to the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Kofi Annan that Moscow opposed "crude interference" from outside in Syrian internal affairs. © Kirill Kudryavtsev - AFP/File
Russian FM Sergei Lavrov is preparing to meet Arab foreign ministers in the Egyptian capital
AFP
Last updated: March 10, 2012

Russia opposes crude interference in Syria

Arab and Russian foreign ministers meeting in Cairo called Saturday for an end to the bloodshed in Syria "whatever its source," as they struggled to find common ground on ways to resolve the conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters after a meeting at the Arab League headquarters that he and his Arab counterparts want "an end to the violence whatever its source."

Reading out a joint statement, Lavrov and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani said they also agreed on setting up a mechanism for "objective monitoring" in Syria and had agreed on no foreign intervention.

They also called for "unhindered humanitarian access" in Syria and support for the current mission to Damascus of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

They said the five-point statement was based on a UN General Assembly resolution passed on February 16 and on previous Arab League resolutions.

The Arab ministers later issued a separate statement condemning the Syrian regime's month-long shelling of the Baba Amr district of Homs as a "crime that reaches the level of crimes against humanity."

The Arab League, which suspended Syria in November, also demanded holding those responsible for the shelling accountable, in a statement read out by Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled Al-Sabah.

The meetings come as the West and the Arab world pile pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime to prevent a year-old uprising from spiralling into all-out civil war.

Beijing and Moscow have used their veto powers as permanent members of the UN Security Council to block resolutions condemning the crackdown, because they singled out Assad for blame.

"Today, the most urgent is to end all violence irrespective of where it came from," Lavrov told his Arab counterparts earlier, and that both the government and armed groups had to vacate Syrian cities and towns.

But Qatar's Sheikh Hamad said the killings of civilians in Syria amounted to "genocide" and that a ceasefire was "not enough."

"The Syrian regime is committing systematic genocide while we talk of a ceasefire," Sheikh Hamad said.

"After all the killing, we cannot just talk of a ceasefire," he said, demanding "accountability" for those responsible for the violence.

Sheikh Hamad said "the time has come to apply the proposal to send Arab and international troops to Syria," while calling for the recognition of the Syrian National Council as the "legitimate representative" of Syria's people.

"When we went to the Security Council, we did not get a resolution because of the Russian-Chinese veto, which sent a wrong message to the Syrian regime," he said, warning that "our patience and the patience of the world has run out."

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the UN veto allowed the "brutality" to continue.

The stand of "the countries that thwarted the UN Security Council resolution and voted against the resolution of the General Assembly on Syria gave the Syrian regime a licence to extend its brutal practices against the Syrian people, without compassion or mercy," he said.

Lavrov insisted his country was "not protecting any regime; we are protecting international law."

He also met in Cairo with Annan before his departure for Damascus and made clear that Moscow opposed "crude interference" from outside in Syrian internal affairs, Russia's foreign ministry said.

"A particular emphasis was placed on the inadmissibility of trampling on international legal norms, including through crude interference in Syria's internal affairs," the foreign ministry said after that meeting.

Annan later met Assad, who told him he would back any "honest" peace bid, while arguing that dialogue would fail if "terrorist groups" remain.

"Syria is ready to bring success to any honest bid to find a solution," the official SANA news agency quoted Assad as saying.

But the Syrian leader added: "No dialogue or political process can succeed as long as there are terrorist groups that are working to sow chaos and destabilise the country by attacking civilians and soldiers."

The pro-democracy movement started off peacefully but gradually became militant in reaction to the lethal crackdown, which monitors say has cost more than 8,500 lives since last March.

Russia said on Friday it opposed an "unbalanced" Washington-backed UN draft resolution on Syria because it called on the government only to end violence but did not mention the rebels.

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