Moscow pushes for Syria talks as Gulf observers leave

Arab World Materials 26 January 2012 06:11 (UTC +04:00)
Around 30 observers from the Arabian Gulf countries left Damascus Wednesday, pulled out by their governments to protest the Syrian government's failure to stop 11 months of violence, dpa reported.
Moscow pushes for Syria talks as Gulf observers leave

Around 30 observers from the Arabian Gulf countries left Damascus Wednesday, pulled out by their governments to protest the Syrian government's failure to stop 11 months of violence, dpa reported.

The move came was an Arab League delegation was expected to arrive in New York before the weekend to seek contact with the UN Security Council, which has been blocked for months by Russia and China from condemning the violence in Syria.

Russia, a key ally of Damascus, said it would resist any UN sanctions on Syria and reiterated opposition to a military intervention. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on the world to support reconciliation talks between Bashar al-Assad's government and the Syrian opposition, and offered to host them.

On Wednesday alone, at least 26 people were killed, among them a Christian clergyman, Bassilius Nassar, and the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Abd-al-Razzaq Jbeiro.

The Arabian Gulf team - part of an Arab League observer mission - left the Sheraton Hotel in Damascus for the airport amid heavy security, a source close to the delegation told dpa.

"The number of observers stands now at 120. But more are set to arrive (in Syria) to replace those who left," the source said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem stressed his government's commitment to "complete cooperation" with the observer mission to Syria.

"Syria is committed to facilitating the accomplishment of the mission, as it was commissioned, in spite of the obstacles being put in the way by sides which do not want to show the reality of the situation in Syria," al-Moallem was quoted by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), after meeting with the head of the Arab League Observer Mission, Mohammed al-Dabi.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced on Tuesday it would withdraw its observers and urged the United Nations Security Council to press Damascus to implement an Arab plan to end bloodshed in the country. The GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Syria is under intense international scrutiny for its ruthless clampdown on pro-democracy protests.

According to UN estimates, more than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began against the al-Assad regime. Syrian opposition groups have accused the observer mission, which began on December 26, of giving al-Assad's regime time to kill more people.

Arab League chief Nabil Al-Arabi and Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani - who heads the pan-Arab body's committee on Syria - have written jointly to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, requesting a meeting to propose a new plan for a political solution in Syria.

The Syrian opposition quickly lashed out at Lavrov, accusing the Russian government of being biased towards al-Assad's regime, allegedly to serve its own interests in the region.

"Russia should know that this regime will not keep its place forever. It (Russia) has to deal with what the free people of Syria are aspiring to," said Radwman Zaideh, a member of the Syrian opposition.

Meanwhile, activists told dpa that 26 people were killed in violence that gripped the provinces of Hama, Homs and Idlib.

The Syrian regime and opposition traded blame for the killing of Christian clergyman, Bassilius Nassar, and the regional Syrian Red Crescent secretary general Abd-al-Razzaq Jbeiro.

An "armed terrorist group" killed a priest in Hama in central Syria on Wednesday, SANA said.

"An armed terrorist group killed the priest as he was helping a man who was wounded in the neighborhood of al-Jarajmah," SANA added.

But activists said the priest was killed by Syrian security. They added that the regime also killed Razzaq Jbeiro in the province of Idlib, in the Khan Sheikhoun area.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent said Jbeiro was travelling in a vehicle with clear markings of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent near Khan Sheikhoun on the Halab-Damascus Highway.

"The shooting occurred as he was returning to Idlib in a vehicle clearly marked with the red crescent emblem after attending meetings at Syrian Arab Red Crescent headquarters in Damascus," the group said in a statement. The organization, along with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, expressed shock at the killing.

"The 'shabiha' (pro-regime militiamen) and security forces backed up by tanks are attacking all parts of the Baba Qibli neighbourhood (of Hama)," said Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group that organizes anti-government protests.

All telephone and communications have been cut in Hama since Tuesday, opposition activists said.

They added that about 4,000 soldiers supported by tanks were surrounding Hama.

In Homs, another dissident province, at least 16 people were killed on Wednesday in shelling by government forces, activists said.

Six of the bodies were found under the rubble of a building destroyed by the shelling, they added.

It is hard to independently verify news from Syria as authorities have barred most foreign media from having access to flashpoint areas.