Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Russia, China and Iran showed support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday, days before an international meeting likely to pile more pressure on him to step down in the face of an increasingly bloody uprising.

Assad met a senior Russian politician in Damascus, who reiterated Moscow's support for his self-styled reform program and spoke out against any foreign intervention in the conflict, Russian and Syrian news agencies reported.

China accused western countries of stirring up civil war in Syria, and two Iranian warships docked at a Syrian naval base, underscoring rising international tensions over the near year-long crisis.

Government forces pressed on with their crackdown on the anti-Assad uprising, with opposition activists reporting five people killed in renewed shelling of an opposition-held district of Homs, and troops and militiamen blockading Hama. Both cities have been in the forefront of the revolt.

The crisis is entering an important week, with western and Arab powers due to meet at a conference in Tunisia on Friday to pressure Assad to give up power, while Assad forges ahead with plans for a referendum on Sunday for a new constitution.

The referendum, which would lead to multi-party elections within 90 days, is part of what Assad describes as a reform program to address demands for more democracy.

The West and Syrian opposition dismiss the plan as a joke, saying it is impossible to have a valid election amid the continuing repression.

Alexei Pushkov, head of the international affairs committee of Russia's lower house of parliament, met Assad in Damascus on Monday and affirmed Russia's support for the plan. Moscow is Syria's main arms supplier and has been its ally since the Cold War.

Pushkov also stressed the need "to continue working for a political solution to the crisis based on dialogue between all concerned parties, without foreign intervention," SANA said.

Assad, who shows no inclination to relinquish power, told Pushkov that Syria was being targeted by armed terrorist groups supported by foreign elements aiming to destabilize Syria.

China, which sent an envoy to Damascus this weekend, also backs Assad's plan for a political solution and has appealed to government and opposition alike to halt the violence.

However, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby chief told reporters there were "indications coming from China and to some extent from Russia that there may be a change in position."

The West has so far ruled out Libya-style military action but the Arab League has indicated some of its member states are ready to arm the opposition, with Saudi Arabia taking the lead.

Meanwhile, two Iranian warships docked at the Syrian port of Tartous on Saturday, Iranian state TV reported. The ships were said to be providing training for Syrian naval forces.

With Shia-led Iran already at odds with the United States, Europe and Israel over its nuclear program, the deployment was likely to add to western concerns that the Syria crisis could boil over into a regional conflict if it is not resolved soon.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, asked about the Iranian move at briefing in Jerusalem, said that Assad was receiving generous support from Iran and the Hezbollah militant group and that Russia and China had given him "a licence to kill."


Post a Comment