|Sergei Lavrov, left, says Russia is prepared to support Kofi Annan’s six-point plan on Syria [Reuters]|
Russia says it is ready to support France’s presidential statement to the UN endorsing Kofi Annan’s plan for settling the Syrian crisis.
But Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said on Tuesday that the statement should not turn into an ultimatum to the Syrian government, which has set the stage for tough bargaining over the wording of the document at the UN Security Council.
First talks on the statement will be held on Tuesday, and France’s UN envoy Gerard Araud said he hoped it would be adopted the same day.
A presidential statement has less weight than a resolution but is adopted by consensus and is generally negotiated faster.
Araud said it is “very limited” to Annan’s mission in a bid to reduce any potential opposition. “It’s really the least controversial text that we could enter,” Araud told reporters after presenting the proposal to the other 14 members of the council on Monday.
The statement calls on Assad and Syria’s opposition to “implement fully and immediately” Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan. It says the council will “consider further measures” if nothing is done within seven days of any adoption.
Russia and China have twice shielded Syria from UN sanctions over its long crackdown on an anti-government uprising, in which more than 8,000 have died.
But the Kremlin has also offered strong support to Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general who is the joint UN and Arab League special envoy.
Annan met Assad twice earlier this month and made proposals to end the bloodshed, which have not been made public.
Lavrov said that Annan’s proposals should now be unveiled, adding that Moscow stood ready to back a UN Security Council resolution supporting it.
“The Security Council should support them not as an ultimatum, but as a basis for the continuing efforts by Kofi Annan aimed at reaching accord between all the Syrians, the government and all opposition groups on all key issues, such as humanitarian corridors, halting hostilities by all parties, the beginning of a political dialogue and offering access to the media,” said Lavrov.
Lavrov’s statement came after Moscow backed calls by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for daily two-hour ceasefires to deliver humanitarain aid to people caught up in the Syrian conflict.
On Monday, the foreign ministry called on the Syrian government “and all armed groups who oppose it” to agree to ceasefires “without delay,” after ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger held talks with Lavrov on Monday.
Moscow had called for the ICRC to have access to “those detained in Syria for their participation in protests”.
Kellenberger said Russia’s support for its appeal was “very important” and that he noted it with “satisfaction and gratitude”.
“The most important issue for us is to ensure humanitarian ceasefires as soon as possible,” Russian media quoted him as saying.
He said the prospect of more Syrian cities being subjected to the intense military bombardment seen in Homs earlier this year was “absolutely unacceptable”.
In February the ICRC, the only international agency to deploy aid workers in Syria, proposed a daily humanitarian ceasefire of two hours to allow time to evacuate the wounded and deliver food, medicine and other vital supplies.
‘Brutal tactics by opposition fighters’
Amid the diplomatic efforts to halt the violence, the Opposition fighters have once again been accused of using brutal tactics on Syrian security forces.
“The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch [HRW], said.
In an open letter, the group has urged the opposition to condemn the abuses.
“Opposition leaders should make it clear to their followers that they must not torture, kidnap, or execute under any circumstances.”
Human Rights Watch has also said it has received reports of executions of Syrian forces by opposition fighters.
And some of the attacks appear to have targeted Shia Muslims or members of Assad’s Alawite sect.
Meanwhile, violence is continuing across Syrian cities including Hama, Homs and Damascus. Overnight, the Syrian capital experienced some of its heaviest fighting since the uprising began a year ago.
Witnesses said machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades were heard from the heavily guarded district of al-Mezzeh, where several security buildings are located and which has seen several large anti-government protests.
The opposition Free Syrian Army has pulled out of the Eastern city of Deir Az Zor for fear of an army assault.
Activists said the rebel army feared its presence there could provoke an army assault and cause a civilian massacre.