Syria Continues Drive to Retake Rebel Strongholds as Diplomacy Suffers a Setback (NY) TIMES) By HALA DROUBI BEIRUT, Lebanon 03/25/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian troops continued their drive on Saturday to
retake rebel strongholds, even as there were indications that
diplomatic efforts to end the violence could still prove elusive just
days after Western officials had claimed a breakthrough.
Those officials had been encouraged by a United Nations vote last
week in which Russia and China, after previously blocking Security
Council action on Syria, joined a statement supporting an attempt to
broker a cease-fire.
But on Saturday — a day before scheduled talks in Moscow with a
United Nations envoy — a senior Kremlin adviser indicated that Russia
continues to have a sharply different view than the United States and
other Western countries, placing the main burden to stop the fighting
on opposition forces, rather than the Syrian government.
“The main thing is to convince the Syrian opposition to come to the
negotiating table with representatives of the authorities, and to
achieve a peaceful solution to the crisis,” the adviser, Sergei E.
Prikhodko, told the Itar-Tass news agency.
That view contrasts with the reactions of Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton and the British foreign secretary, who responded to
the Security Council vote by urging the Syrian government to act
first and immediately pull back its forces from population centers,
echoing the text of the statement.
While the uprising last year started with peaceful protests, army
defectors and others have since taken up arms against the government
after months of a brutal crackdown.
On Saturday, Syrian troops intensified a renewed attack against the
beleaguered central city of Homs, activists said. The city was the
site of a major offensive earlier this year that heavily damaged the
restive neighborhood of Baba Amr, but had been calmer in recent weeks.
The government had said that assault had pacified the city, but many
opposition fighters appeared to have just moved to other
neighborhoods. On Saturday, activists reported that troops continued
an assault on the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh that had started last
Omar Idilbi, with the Local Coordinating Committees, an activist
group, said that Khaldiyeh was one of several neighborhoods being
shelled. His group put the number of dead in the city from Saturday’s
fighting at 24, out of 45 killed Saturday throughout Syria.
“There is not one neighborhood in Homs that doesn’t have members of
the F.S.A. in it, even Baba Amr,” he said, referring to the loose-
knit rebel militias, the Free Syrian Army. “That’s why the shelling
Abo Mohammed, an activist in Khaldiyeh reached through Skype,
said: “There are kids here, and they’re seeing the dead bodies on the
streets. You can’t hide them anymore.”
As has been true since the start of the conflict, reports are
difficult to confirm, since the country has severely restricted entry
by foreign reporters.
Troops also continued their attempts to flush rebels from areas north
of Homs, entering the town of Saraqeb in Idlib Province. The London-
based Syrian Observatory, another activist group, said tanks had
entered the city and troops were arresting residents.
An activist in Turkey, who goes by the name Menhal and who recently
fled Saraqeb, said people in the town reached by phone said it was
bombarded by tank fire. “The situation is horrible,” he said by
telephone. “I don’t know what more to say. They are looting stores
and destroying them, burning houses, and there are many wounded
people, and God, many wounded kids, many wounded kids.”
The diplomatic efforts to end the violence are expected to continue
Sunday, when Kofi Annan, the special representative of the United
Nations and the Arab League, is scheduled to meet with Russia’s
president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, and its foreign minister, Sergey V.
Lavrov. Mr. Annan is then expected to continue to China for more
Mrs. Clinton has sought to portray Russia’s backing of the United
Nations Security Council statement in support of Mr. Annan’s mission
as an important shift, demonstrating new international unity.
“The Council has now spoken with one voice,” Mrs. Clinton said
Wednesday, calling for the pullback of government forces and the
beginning of a Syrian-led political process “that will lead to a
But the comments from the Kremlin on Saturday suggested that there
was still a rift, and that Russia would continue to oppose efforts to
oust Mr. Assad, its longtime ally.
The Kremlin adviser, Mr. Prikhodko, rather than focusing on Mr.
Assad, said Russia believed that the violence could only be stopped
by ending foreign support for the Syrian opposition.
He said that at the meeting with Mr. Annan on Sunday, Mr.
Medvedev “will present our basic approach to the problem of the cease-
fire and violence in Syria, which would be difficult to do without
putting an end to the external fueling and political support of the
David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting from Moscow. (Copyright
2012 The New York Times Company 03/25/12)
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