"Elements of blackmail" in western position on Syria

Russia on Monday laid to rest all speculation that it was distancing itself from the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, despite escalating combat in Syria, which had now spread to several parts of the capital Damascus.

At a news conference ahead of the visit to Moscow by Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, used exceptionally harsh language to denounce western powers for deliberately misinterpreting consensus resolutions on Syria to one-sidedly target the regime. There were “elements of blackmail” in the western position on Syria, asserted Mr. Lavrov. He stressed that it was unrealistic to expect that Mr. Assad would step down as “a very significant part of the Syrian population [was] behind him.”

The Russian backing for Mr. Assad comes amid an escalation in fighting that has now spread to several flashpoints in Damascus. Opposition activists claimed that backed by armoured vehicles, troops had advanced through the city centre to drive out rebels who had acquired a foothold not far from major state installations.

The army’s assault also appeared to target a handful of other important neighbourhoods, including Tadamon, Kfar Souseh, Nahr Aisha and Sidi Qadad. There were some reports about residents fleeing some areas, and of motorways being blocked by protesters with burning tyres.

Misleading reports?

Amid the fighting, government forces have been accused of supporting a pro-regime militia that has mounted “massacres” of civilians. But BBC is reporting that recent fighting in Tresmeh near the embattled city of Hama may not have resulted in the killings of dozens of civilians as perceived earlier by activists, as later accounts suggested that most of the dead were armed rebels.

Moscow talks tough

Vladimir Radyuhin writes from Moscow:

Russia has vowed to block any U.N. Security Council resolution containing threats of sanctions.

“To our great regret, we are seeing elements of blackmail,” Mr. Lavrov told journalists. “We are being told, ‘If you do not agree to a resolution based on Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, we will refuse to extend the U.N. observers mandate’.”

Chapter 7 empowers the Security Council to take measures ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military interference.

The Russian Minister slammed Western powers for provoking a civil war in Syria by pushing for “an economic, financial and communication blockade” and therefore ruling out talks with the Syrian government.

“This is a direct invitation to a civil war, not the implementation of the Geneva communiqué,” Mr. Lavrov said.

“We will not be able to allow passage of a Security Council resolution that is not based on the Geneva agreements,” he said, referring to a plan agreed at international talks on Syria on June 30 to promote political transition in Syria based on national dialogue.

Russia has tabled its own draft resolution in the Security Council, which would extend the U.N. monitoring mission in Syria, which runs out on Friday, and call for drafting a town-by-town ceasefire plan for ending violence in the country.

Mandate

“If our partners decide to block our resolution no matter what, then the U.N. mission will not have a mandate and will have to leave Syria. That would be a pity,” Mr. Lavrov said.

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