July 17, 2012
July 17, 2012
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Tuesday to do everything to support Kofi Annan’s plan for ending the violence in Syria, as fierce fighting in the capital Damascus continued for a third day.
Annan arrived for his first meeting with the Kremlin chief since Putin’s return for a third term, hoping to avert a new Moscow veto of a Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against Russia’s ally.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the 90-minute meeting that he could “see no reason why we cannot also agree at the U.N. Security Council. We are ready for this.”
But neither Putin nor other Russian official offered any sign that they were ready to take a harder line with President Bashar al-Assad or compromise on punitive measures against the regime’s brutal use of force.
“From the very start, from the first steps, we supported and continue to support your efforts aimed at restoring civil peace,” Putin told Annan at the start of their talks.
“We will do everything that depends on us to support your efforts,” the Russian leader said.
Annan’s three-month-old peace initiative – never implemented amid recently escalating violence – is now up against a Friday deadline for a U.N. monitors mission to either wind down or receive an extension from the Security Council.
Western powers have scheduled a vote on the mission for Wednesday extending its mandate for 45 days but also giving Assad 10 days to pull heavy military equipment out of cities or face economic sanctions.
“The Council, I expect, will be sending out a message that the killings must stop and that the situation on the ground is unacceptable,” Annan said.
“Hopefully, the Council will come together in a united manner and press ahead in search of peace,” he added.
On the ground, Syrian rebels said they had shot down an army helicopter over the Damascus district of Qaboun on Tuesday, the third day of fierce fighting in the Syrian capital between forces loyal to President Assad and his opponents.
“Helicopters are flying at low altitude. It’s easy to target them using anti-aircraft weapons,” a senior rebel officer told Reuters.
The Syrian Free Army has announced that the fighting in Damascus were part of a battle to liberate the capital.
The White House warned the Syrian government that it will be held accountable for the safe handling and storage of any chemical weapons it possesses.
The Assad’s government appears to be quietly shifting some chemical weapons from storage sites, Western and Israeli officials have said, but it is not clear whether the operation is merely a security precaution amid the chaos of the Syrian conflict, or something more.
“There are certain responsibilities that go along with the handling and storage and security of those chemical weapons,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Air Force One headed for Texas, when asked about news reports on Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
“We believe that the individuals who are responsible for living up to those challenges should do so and will be held accountable for doing so,” he said. But he said he could not comment on any specific intelligence reports on Syria’s chemical weapons.
A Syrian general and several soldiers, meanwhile, crossed into Turkey on Monday, a Turkish diplomat told AFP, bringing the number of defections by generals from Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime to at least 18.
Turkey has become home to dozens of defectors who have crossed the border and formed the Free Syrian Army in opposition to Assad’s regime.
The latest defection brings to 18 the number of generals who have fled into Turkey since the conflict in Syria erupted in March last year.
Source: Al Arabiya