Syria opposition methods could lead to 'civil war': Russia

17th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Damascus' Russian ally said Thursday that attacks by renegade Syrian troops risked plunging the country into civil war and accused foreign powers of fanning the flames by supporting the opposition.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was speaking after talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, piling more pressure on his increasingly isolated regime.

"Today, by the way, Euro News -- our common TV channel with the European Union --- showed footage where the newly created Free Syrian Army attacked... official buildings," Lavrov said.

"Of course, if the opposition is going to use such methods it will lead... to full-scale civil war," he said, referring to Wednesday's attack by Syrian army defectors known as the Free Syrian Army on a military intelligence base just outside Damascus.

Russia's top diplomat also accused foreign countries he did not name of seeking to inflame passions in the conflict-torn Middle Eastern country, saying Russia did not want its traditional ally to repeat the fate of Libya.

"We are witnessing how hastily some outside players are trying to push for an escalation of the confrontation in Syria, maybe because of a desire to dramatise the situation in the media and receive additional arguments to justify some kind of interference in Syrian affairs," Lavrov said.

Ashton, who was visiting Moscow for talks with Lavrov, said that Assad should step down amid intensifying Western pressure on his regime.

"It's time for President Assad to stand down," Ashton said following talks with Lavrov. The Arab League, she said, "have made their position extremely clear."

The Arab League the day earlier gave Assad three days to halt his "bloody repression" of anti-regime protests or risk sanctions. But Lavrov said Arab League's peace plan for Syria should be made more "concrete," urging the global community to call on the opposition to end the violence.

"Today I saw a television report about some new so-called rebel Free Syrian Army organising an attack on the government building, on the building belonging to Syria's armed forces," Lavrov told reporters earlier in the day.

"This was quite similar to a true civil war."

Russia has been deeply opposed to Western efforts to internationalise the crisis, fearing it might clear the way for Libya-style Western military intervention under a UN mandate.

On October 4, it joined China in vetoing a Western-drafted Security Council resolution that would have threatened Assad's regime with "targeted measures" if it continued its deadly crackdown on protesters, which the UN says has killed more than 3,500 people.

Leading Syrian dissident Haithem al-Maleh took issue with Russia's warning of civil war, saying the intelligence base, where a number of detainees were being held, was a legitimate target in the protection of civilians.

"This attack on one of the worst departments of the security services does not mean a civil war. This army of defectors is protecting civilians, no more, no less," Maleh told Al-Jazeera television.

© 2011 AFP

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