Russia and the Western powers appeared more sharply divided over Syria after Moscow strongly denounced foreign interference and infusion of al-Qaeda in the strife-torn Levantine state.

Their divergent perceptions were laid bare by France’s decision to fund opposition groups inside Syria’s so-called “liberated zones”, and Russia’s contrasting insistence on a search for a home-grown solution to the crisis.

Reuters quoted a “diplomatic source” as saying France had started supporting parts of Syria that are apparently being controlled by the armed opposition. More alarmingly, the report pointed out that Paris was considering supplying heavy artillery to anti-government fighters — a move that would harden the possibility of a full-blown civil war in the country.

“In zones where the regime has lost control, such as Tal Rifaat [40 km north of Aleppo], which has been free five months, local revolutionary councils have been set up to help the population and put in place an administration for these towns so as to avoid chaos like in Iraq when the regime pulls back,” the agency’s source was quoted as saying.

The report added that the French had “had started giving aid and money on Friday to five local authorities from three provinces — Deir al-Zor, Aleppo and Idlib”. It is estimated that around 700,000 people reside in this area.

Contrary to the French position, Russian President Vladimir Putin has advocated a complete halt to the supply of weaponry into theatres of conflict in Syria as the first step towards finding a peaceful and negotiated solution to end the crisis.

In an interview to Russia Today (RT), Mr. Putin said: “I believe that the first thing to do is to stop shipping arms into the warzone, which is still going on. We should stop trying to impose unacceptable solutions on either side, because it is a dead-end. That’s what we should do. It is that simple.”

The Russian President also slammed the infusion of al-Qaeda and its clones into Syria. “Today some want to use militants from al-Qaeda or some other organisations with equally radical views to accomplish their goals in Syria.”

He added: “This policy is dangerous and very short-sighted. In that case, one should unlock Guantanamo, arm all of its inmates and bring them to Syria to do the fighting — it’s practically the same kind of people. But what we should bear in mind is that one day these people will get back at their former captors. On the other hand, these same people should bear in mind that they will eventually end up in a new prison, very much like the one off the Cuban shore.”

Mr. Putin also opposed the sectarian tenor of the Syrian conflict involving the Sunni, Shia and Allawite communities.

Contrary to the position that the Americans and the European Union (EU) countries adopted, Russia roundly rejected imposition of unilateral sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Speaking in Vladivostok after meeting his U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton during the course of the APEC summit, Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov advocated “involvement, not isolation” of the Syrian government in order to find a solution.

“In Syria we are not supporting any sanctions because sanctions will not bring about anything.” But unimpressed by Moscow’s line of reasoning, foreign ministers of the European Union meeting in Cyprus agreed on Saturday to mount further sanctions against the Assad government.

The deepening divide between Russia and the West came a time when fierce fighting was raging in parts of Aleppo, Syria’s ravaged commercial capital. Syrian forces — after a 20-hour battle — repelled an attack by armed opposition fighters to seize weapons in the city’s Hanano military base.

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