AFP
Last updated: October 19, 2011

Russian MPs seek to broker Syria talks

A group of Russian lawmakers arrived in Damascus in a bid to broker an end to violence in Syria, where security forces were reported to have killed two more people.

Moscow is a traditional ally of President Bashar al-Assad, and the delegation, which flew in Saturday, aims to meet him and opposition figures, news agencies reported.

"Russia cares about the fate of the Syrian people. That's why we want to find a way to stop a negative scenario developing," Russia's Interfax quoted Ilyas Uumakhanov, vice president of the Russian upper house, as saying.

"Russia is against any external interference in Syria's domestic problems and is ready to assist where it can with internal political dialogue, which should take place in a peaceful atmosphere, without victims," he added.

"We intend to assess the situation, lead the consultations with the different political forces."

Syria's SANA news agency said the group began a four-day visit to meet "independent politicians and the opposition."

No date was given for the meeting with Assad, and it was not clear which opposition forces the delegation intended to meet.

Russia has continued to support the Syrian regime despite its crackdown on protests that the United Nations estimates to have killed around 2,600 people.

Earlier, Mikhail Margelov, special representative of the Russian president, said the delegation would seek to "clarify the facts, to see firsthand what is really happening."

Foreign media are not permitted to circulate freely in Syria.

On Saturday, Syrian security forces killed two people as they conducted searches in the northwestern province of Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The victims, a man and a woman, were killed in the town of Khan Sheikhun, the British-based group told AFP by telephone.

For its part, SANA said one member of the security forces was killed and another wounded in an ambush by an "armed terrorist group" in the same town.

It also said five members of the security forces were killed in an ambush in the central city of Homs.

The Russians arrived a day after Syrian security forces shot dead at least 22 people in operations across the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as pressure mounted on the regime to end the crackdown.

Moscow has refused to support Western sanctions against Assad and argued that equal pressure should also be placed on the protesters who refuse to engage Assad in direct talks. It has repeated the Syrian regime's claims likening protesters to "terrorists."

President Dmitry Medvedev has said that some of those taking part in the Syrian demonstration had links to "terrorists," while another senior Russian official said that "terrorist organisations" could gain power in Syria if Assad's regime is toppled.

Some 300 opposition figures met near Damascus on Saturday to discuss the means of ending the crisis in Syria.

Under the slogan, "no to foreign interference, no to violence and yes to secularism," writer Michel Kilo called for "the unification of opposition ranks," and expressed confidence in the nation's youth.

Members of the Syrian opposition met Thursday in Istanbul, where they announced a list of 140 dissidents forming a "national council" they established in August to coordinate the opposition's policies against the Syrian leadership.

Sixty percent of the members live in Syria, while the remainder are in exile.

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