Syria battle rages as Russia pushes old plan

Moscow tries to revive accord that calls for government of unity as the West upped pressure to beef up sanctions.

Government forces said they have pushed rebels out of the Hanano military base in Aleppo [Reuters]

Fighting for control of a key army base raged in the northern Syrian city Aleppo as Russia tried to revive a divisive accord that calls for a government of unity.

As Lakhdar Brahimi prepared for his first visit to Damascus as international envoy on Syria, EU foreign ministers meeting in Cyprus on Saturday upped the pressure, saying they agreed on the need to beef up sanctions against the Syrian regime.

At the meeting in Cyprus, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced a $54 million aid package to help some of the thousands of internally displaced Syrians left homeless by the fighting.

European nations are intent on working with Moscow, Syria’s main diplomatic and military supporter, she said despite anger over Russia and China vetoing three UN Security Council attempts to exert more pressure on Syria.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Sunday that after holding talks with Russian President Valdimir Putin, she has increased doubts that Moscow would change its stance on Syria.

“If we can make progress in New York in the run-up to the UN General Assembly, we can certainly try,” Clinton told
reporters in Vladivostok, where she attended a Pacific Rim summit hosted by Putin.

“But we have to be realistic. We haven’t seen eye-to-eye on Syria. That may continue. And if it does continue then we will work with like-minded states to support the Syrian opposition to hasten the day when Assad falls.”

Water pipeline hit

On the ground, the army claimed a victory against rebels after forcing them out of the Hanano army base in Aleppo after a 20-hour battle, military sources and witnesses said.

“There are a lot of victims on both sides,” one witness told AFP news agency.

Thousands of people have been made homeless by the
fighting, and are trapped in camps on Syria’s borders

Later, it was reported that a main water line had been destroyed, with Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, saying this was critical “because it provides drinking water to the whole city”.

“We cannot say how it was ruptured, but there were air strikes and clashes between the army and rebels in the area,” he said.

Aleppo provincial governor Mohammed Wahid Akkad blamed a “terrorist” attack and said work was under way to restore supplies, the official SANA news agency reported.

The Local Coordination Committees, a network of opposition activists on the ground, blamed the damage on air attacks.

The Observatory also reported shelling in Damascus, in the southern province of Daraa, and clashes around a military airport in Albu Kamal in the east.

The fighting also spilled over into Iraq, when mortar rounds hit the border town of Al-Qaim, killing a four-year-old girl and wounding four people, an Iraqi army captain said.

At least 80 people – 25 civilians, 19 rebels and 36 soldiers – were killed nationwide on Saturday, the Observatory reported.

Russian plan

Russian officials have said they would ask the UN Security Council to endorse a plan to end the violence, but the US insisted that any resolution had to be backed by economic pressure.

Meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was willing to go back to the Security Council to seek its blessing for a stalled peace plan agreed by world powers in Geneva on June 30.

“We stressed in a meeting with the US Secretary of State that Russia will push for the Security Council’s approval of the Geneva communique,” Lavrov said, after talks on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific summit in Vladivostok.

But Lavrov rejected US calls for more economic pressure, telling reporters: “In Syria we are not supporting any sanctions because sanctions will not bring about anything.”

Lavrov said the latest attempt at a Security Council resolution would take place later this month when foreign ministers meet as part of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The Kremlin-backed Geneva plan called for all sides in Syria to implement a ceasefire, in line with a proposal by former UN chief and negotiator Kofi Annan, and then to form a transitional government and review the constitution.

The plan immediately triggered new disputes between world powers, with the US and its European allies ruling out any future role for Assad but Russia saying that the transitional government should be decided by Syrians.

The Geneva plan has failed to halt violence on the ground, including reported massacres of civilians. Human rights monitors say that 26,000 people have died since protests erupted against Assad in March 2011.

Source: News Agencies