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Home News Obama, Putin call for end to Syria bloodshed

Obama, Putin call for end to Syria bloodshed

Published on 19/06/2012

US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin issued a joint call for an end to Syrian violence as troops reportedly shelled cities and more than 70 people were killed on Monday.

World powers have been divided over how to stem the bloodletting in Syria, where the regime has been using brute force to crush a 15-month uprising that began with peaceful pro-reform protests but is responding with more and more violence of its own.

“In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of all violence,” Obama and Putin said in a statement after meeting in Mexico following months of growing antagonism between Moscow and Washington on the issue.

“We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future,” they said.

The United States has been frustrated over Russia’s refusal to allow the UN Security Council to take firmer action against President Bashar al-Assad and his regime over its bloody crackdown on dissent.

The one initiative they have agreed on, the deployment of UN observers to monitor a truce brokered by UN-Arab envoy Kofi Annan, has virtually collapsed, with the mission suspending its work at the weekend because of the escalating violence.

Putin told reporters after meeting Obama for the first time since he returned to the presidency that the two leaders had found “many common points” on Syria.

Obama said after the two hours of talks that both he and Putin agreed on the need for a “political process” to prevent civil war in Syria and pledged to work with Annan to try to end the crisis.

In their joint statement, the leaders said the future must be worked out by “Syrians themselves” in the “framework of Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity.”

Russia has been concerned to avoid a repeat of the international mission in Libya when it was assured the West was not bent on regime change, but then saw allied warplanes help the opposition topple dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

US officials have said they want Russia’s help to create a political transition similar to that which ushered Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power in February after a year-long uprising.

“From my point of view we have found many common points on this (Syria) issue,” Putin said after the talks, adding that Russia and the United States would continue discussions on how to deal with the ongoing violence.

In Moscow, news reports said that Russia was preparing to send two warships to the Syrian port of Tartus where Moscow operates a strategic naval base to ensure the safety of its nationals.

— ‘Attacks worsen in UN absence’ —

On the ground, regime forces pounded rebel strongholds in the central city of Homs and the capital Damascus despite opposition pleas for help and a UN warning that such bombardments amounted to crimes against humanity.

“Shelling and shooting renewed in Homs city, with explosions heard in the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which put Monday’s toll at more than 70 people killed across the country.

In the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the anti-regime revolt that erupted in March 2011, the town of Tafas was under siege and shelling by regime troops, said the rebel Free Syrian Army.

“The regular army was able to break into the town from the southern entrance, where they launched a campaign of raids, but did not penetrate the whole town,” said FSA spokesman Louay Rashdan.

The Observatory said on Monday that a blast killed seven people, including two rebel commanders, at Mohassan in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

Clashes and shelling persisted in several areas of Damascus province, including the towns of Douma and Qudsaya which have been under regime bombardment for the past five days.

Speaking to AFP via Skype, an anti-regime activist who identified himself as Mahmoud Doumani said there was much “destruction in Douma” and that the “situation is very sad.”

“Regime forces have destroyed homes, farms and many mosques over the past week. But in the past couple of days, in the absence of the UN monitors, attacks on Douma have become even worse than before,” Doumani said, adding that families who have not fled the town are in hiding.

UN rights chief Navi Pillay demanded the immediate cessation of bombardments of populated areas.

“The government of Syria should immediately cease the use of heavy armaments and shelling of populated areas, as such actions amount to crimes against humanity and possible war crimes,” she told the Human Rights Council.

The European Union urged the Assad regime do more to protect UN observers currently in lockdown in Syria, two days after the suspension of their operations.

France and Britain said UN Security Council members would examine steps to take in the wake of the move to halt the work of the 300-strong UN observer mission.

Britain’s UN envoy said they would ask the head of the mission, Major General Robert Mood, some tough questions when he briefs the Security Council on Tuesday.

Mood had on Sunday urged the warring parties to “allow women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones, without any preconditions and ensure their safety.”

The main opposition Syrian National Council and other factions were, meanwhile, due to meet in Brussels on the weekend for EU-sponsored talks at forging unity in the face of the regime, a EU spokesman said.

More than 14,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against Assad began, monitors say.