MOSCOW, November 15 (Itar-Tass) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday will meet a delegation of the Syrian National Council (SNC). The visit to Moscow of the opposition led by the SNC Chairman Burhan Ghalioun is held against the backdrop of the unprecedented pressure the international community has exerted on this Arab republic in recent days.
On the eve of negotiations Lavrov said that “Russia is trying to bring to reason the Syrian opposition.” “We will try to convey to them our concern, because the struggle for power is a thing that often becomes an end in itself, but it is necessary to think about your own country the people,” he said.
The ultimatum of the League of Arab States (LAS) with the deadline on November 16 contains the threat of suspension of Damascus’ membership in the organisation, curtailing political contacts and imposing economic sanctions. The League motivates such a tough approach by the Syrian president’s failure to fulfil the peace plan in the country.
The Russian minister said the decision to suspend the membership of Syria in the Arab League is “wrong” and recalled that the Syrians have invited LAS observers to visit the country. “Those who made this decision have lost a very important opportunity to make the situation more transparent,” Lavrov said.
“We have given some good advice as friends, that these reforms should be accelerated,” he recalled. “Bashar al-Assad has adopted a number of important laws, really set up a committee that deals with reforming the constitution, including ending the monopoly of the Ba’ath Party. It is very difficult to brush aside this.” “Both the opposition and our European and American counterparts just openly made politicised statements that he does not do anything at all,” the minister continued. “That’s not true. However, unfortunately, the Syrian leadership has also made many mistakes. One of them is the reluctance to open the country to any media.”
The EU, for its part, imposed new sanctions on Damascus, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe even urged to find the means “to protect the civilian population of Syria.” It turns out that Moscow has drawn parallels with Libya not without a reason.
“When these people (opposition) hear tough statements from Washington and Brussels that it is impossible to hold any kind of dialogue with Assad and he should understand that he must go, this, certainly, does not encourage a constructive dialogue,” said Lavrov, adding that “there is incitement of radically minded oppositionists to adhere to the course towards the regime change and refuse from all invitations to dialogue.”
Representative of the Committee in support of the Syrian Revolution, Dr. Mahmoud Hamo Al-Hamza said that the talks in Moscow “will focus on the Russian-Syrian relations.” “We want to preserve relations with Russia,” he said in an interview with Itar-Tass. “The main thing is that Russia supports the Syrian people.”
In addition to the consultations at the RF Foreign Ministry, the emissaries plan meetings with the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the State Duma lower house of parliament Konstantin Kosachev and Vice Speaker of the Federation Council upper house Ilyas Umakhanov.
The 2011 Syrian uprising is an ongoing internal conflict occurring in Syria. Protests started on 26 January 2011, and escalated into an uprising by 15 March 2011. The uprising is influenced by concurrent protests in the region, and has been described as “unprecedented.” The demands of protesters include for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, for the ruling Ba’ath Party to allow other political parties, equal rights for Kurdish people and broad political freedoms, such as freedom of press, speech and assembly.
As protests continued, the Syrian government used tanks and snipers to force people off the streets. Water and electricity were shut off and security forces began confiscating flour and food in particularly restive areas, including Daraa, Douma and Homs. During the course of the uprising, the Syrian Army has stormed the cities of Daraa, Douma, Baniyas, Hama, Homs, Talkalakh, Rastan, Jisr ash-Shughur, Deir ez-Zor and Latakia, among other towns, and occupied parts of Damascus. The violence escalated as the crisis wore on, with the killing reaching its highest level in early August. Activists, fleeing civilians, and soldiers who defected claimed that soldiers who refuse to fire on civilians are executed by the Syrian Army. The Syrian government has denied the reports of defections and blames “armed gangs” for causing trouble.
More than 3,500 people have been killed, many more injured, and thousands of protesters have been detained. Dozens of detainees have reportedly been tortured and killed. Syrian officials say a captured terrorist has confessed to receiving foreign aid and instructions from contacts in Saudi Arabia and Jordan to deface Damascus.
Since the beginning of the uprising, the Syrian government has made several concessions, though widely considered trivial by protesters demanding more meaningful reform. On 21 April, the government repealed an emergency law that had been in place since 1963, which allowed the government sweeping authority to suspend constitutional rights. Yet crackdowns on protesters have continued to heighten since the beginning of the uprising. On 24 July, a draft law was created, to be debated by parliament, to allow more political parties, under the conditions that they were not based on religious, tribal or ethnic beliefs and does not discriminate against gender or race. Protesters have dismissed the law as superficial, as Article 8 of the Syrian Constitution, which grants the Ba’ath party the role of leader of the state and society, would need to be repealed.
There have been several international reactions to the uprising. The Arab League, the European Union, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States have among others condemned the use of violence against the protesters. The government of Iran, Al-Assad’s government’s regional and political ally, initially suggested the demonstrations were a foreign plot, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has since called for reforms and an end to violence. However, military intervention has been generally ruled out by foreign powers. On November 12, the Arab League issued an ultimatum to end violence by November 16 or Syria’s membership in the organisation would be suspended.