Russia urges Syria transition as clashes rage

12th January 2013, Comments 0 comments

Russia called on Saturday for a political transition in Syria, a day after peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met diplomats from Moscow and Washington and as the deadly conflict claimed yet more lives.

The outskirts of the capital were rocked by violence despite Friday's talks, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

A day after UN-Arab League special envoy Brahimi met Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Moscow reiterated its long-held position that only Syrians can decide their own fate.

"In our opinion, the priority task is to immediately stop any violence and bloodshed as well as provide Syrians including internally displaced persons and refugees with humanitarian aid," a foreign ministry statement said.

But it also added: "At the same time it is necessary to secure the launch of a political transition process in Syria aimed at enshrining in law guaranteed and equal rights of all ethnic-confessional groups of this country."

Moscow, a key Damascus ally, also reiterated its support for a transition plan that was agreed in Geneva on June 30, 2012, but has since split world powers.

"We proceed from the fact that this consensus-based document remains fully relevant as the only platform to overcome the protracted crisis in Syria," the foreign ministry said.

In a separate statement, the ministry said Bogdanov also met a Syrian delegation led by Michel Kilo, a prominent anti-regime activist who opposes foreign intervention.

"A common opinion was expressed that the priority task is to immediately stop any violence and launch a nationwide dialogue" in accordance with the Geneva communique, the statement said.

Bogdanov pledged to continue "active contacts" with both Damascus and the opposition, it added.

Despite Friday's talks, the violence raged unabated, as regime warplanes bombarded Mleha just southeast of Damascus, the Observatory said.

"Regime forces used warplanes to bombard the area between Mleha and Jaramana on Saturday a day after rebels assaulted an air force security building there," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Mleha's outskirts are next to Jaramana, a regime-held majority Christian and Druze suburb, where some residents have struggled to remain neutral in Syria's spiralling conflict.

"Even people who have long defended the regime are saying they've had enough," one resident who identified herself as Mary told AFP via the Internet.

Saturday's violence came a day after at least 86 people were killed across the country, said the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground to compile its reports.

It gave a preliminary Saturday toll of at least 27 dead nationwide.

On Friday, insurgents overran the key Taftanaz air base in northwestern Syria, in one of their most important military gains to date.

Capturing Taftanaz, from which regime forces launched deadly helicopter gunship sorties, eases the pressure on rebels who already control vast swathes of the north and east.

The United Nations says that more than 60,000 people have died in the Syria conflict since March 2011.

Escalating violence has in turn led to thousands of low and mid-level defections, when peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad turned violent amid a deadly crackdown on dissent.

In a video posted on the Internet, a man identifying himself as a senior foreign intelligence official announced his defection.

"I, Jumaa Farraj Jassem, head of Section 30 of the foreign service of the General Intelligence Directorate, announce my defection from this criminal regime, as I join the ranks of this blessed revolution," said the man.

AFP was unable to verify the authenticity of the video, which was posted on Friday.

© 2013 AFP

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