Russia's patriarch to meet Assad in Syria: Church
The head of Russia's Orthodox Church will travel to Damascus this weekend for meetings that include talks with Syrian strongman President Bashar al-Assad, the Church said on Friday.
Patriarch Kirill will meet Assad on Sunday during his trip, which will also include talks on Monday in Beirut with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, the Church said in a statement.
The Church did not explicitly tie the trip to the eight months of violence now gripping Russia's traditional regional ally, but a spokesman for the patriarch said Kirill was travelling in a peacemaking role.
"His Holiness the patriarch is travelling to the region with a mission that includes that of peacemaker," Church spokesman Igor Yakimchuk told the Interfax news agency.
"Most likely, he will issue a call for a dialogue between all sides ... that will return the country to political stability."
Kirill will also meet with Ignatius Zakka I, the Syriac Orthodox Church Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, who is based in Damascus and operates independently while maintaining close relations with Moscow.
Russia has rejected tough UN sanctions against Assad's regime for his crackdown on the opposition, fearing that the move could lead to foreign military intervention similar the one Moscow resisted in Libya.
But past attempts by Moscow to force Assad to accept political reforms and end the violence have been fruitless, leading to a warning from President Dmitry Medvedev in October for the Syrian leader to either change his course or step down.
© 2011 AFP