Syria´s rebels will never defeat Bashar al-Assad, even if they are ´armed to the teeth´, says Russia (TELEGRAPH UK) By Adrian Blomfield, Middle East Correspondent 04/05/12)
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Proposals to arm Syria´s opposition are doomed to fail because the
country´s disparate rebels will never be able unseat President Bashar
al-Assad even if they are "armed to the teeth", Russia has warned.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, accused members of
the "Friends of Syria" coalition of undermining the chances of a UN-
backed peace deal by offering rebel forces incentives to keep
The warning came as the Assad regime stepped up a countrywide assault
against the opposition´s last remaining strongholds a day after
publicly insisting that it had begun to withdraw its troops and tanks
from populated areas.
Activists linked to the opposition said that more than 40 people,
most of them civilians, were killed as government troops and tanks
shelled opposition sympathising towns and cities across Syria. There
were 21 reported fatalities in Homs, the country´s most restive city.
At least 120 people are said to have been killed in the past 48 hours
during one of the most sustained periods of violence in recent weeks.
The scale of the bloodshed has called into question Mr Assad´s
commitment to a deal brokered by Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League
special envoy to Syria, which calls for the withdrawal of army units
to be completed by next Tuesday.
It also suggests that the regime is on intent on capturing as much
territory as possible before the truce comes into effect.
But the pace with which government units have been able to advance,
coupled with a series of major battlefield victories in recent
months, also points to the fact that the rebels appear increasingly
While backing Mr Annan´s initiative, Western and Arab members of the
Friends of Syria, have explored ways of assisting the opposition.
The United States and Britain have both pledged to give the
rebels "non-lethal" military assistance, while some Gulf States have
announced that they will pay the rebels salaries in the hope of
encouraging soldiers still loyal to Mr Assad to defect.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have gone even further by proposing to arm the
rebels directly -- a suggestion that Mr Lavrov condemned as both
futile and dangerous.
"It is clear as day that even if the Syrian opposition is armed to
the teeth, it will not be able to defeat the government´s army,"
Russia´s Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
"Instead there will be carnage that lasts many, many years -- mutual
Mr Lavrov chided the Friends of Syria for hypocrisy, saying that
offers of support for the rebels only encourages them to keep
fighting. Under Mr Annan´s plan, the rebels are supposed to stop
fighting 48 hours after government troops withdraw.
Russia is desperate to see Mr Assad survive, seeing him the only Arab
protector of Moscow´s interests in the Middle East. Syria is home to
the Russian navy´s only warm-water base outside the former Soviet
The Kremlin sees Mr Annan´s plan as the Syrian leader´s best chance
of remaining in power because it does not specifically call on him to
stand down. Western officials say the initiative implicitly demands
Mr Assad´s departure, although it only calls for negotiations between
the regime and the opposition.
Opposition leaders predict that Mr Assad will use loopholes in the
vaguely worded plan to buy time and say that the initiative has only
served to shore up his position by convincing wavering loyalists that
it would be foolhardy to defect.
A UN mission led by a Norwegian general, Robert Mood, is due to
arrive in Damascus shortly to prepare for the arrival of unarmed UN
observers to monitor the truce. (© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group
Limited 2012. 04/05/12)
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