Russia said on Wednesday it was “open to constructive proposals” on Syria but remained opposed to any U.N. resolution requiring all nations to abide by unilateral sanctions imposed by the West, as Gulf Arab monitors headed out of Syria.
“We are open to constructive proposals that go in line with the set task of ending violence,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said following talks with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, according to AFP.
His comments came as Russian and U.S. officials had talks in Moscow on how to stop the violence in Syria, which U.N. estimates say have killed more than 5,400 people.
Russia was open to changes to a resolution it has proposed to the U.N. Security Council that blames both the Syrian government and the opposition for the use of force, said Lavrov.
But he insisted that Russia would not back U.N. action granting the global body’s approval of economic sanctions already adopted against its traditional ally by the European Union and the United States.
“We will not be able to back proposals under which unilaterally imposed sanctions against Syria -- sanctions that were declared without any consultations with Russia or China or other BRIC nations -- are blessed retroactively,” said Lavrov.
“This is simply unfair and counterproductive.”
Any resolution backed by Russia “must firmly record that it cannot be used or interpreted to justify anyone's outside military intervention in the Syria crisis,” he added.
Syrian security forces, meanwhile, raked the central protest city of Hama with heavy machinegun fire and explosives on Wednesday for the second straight day, activists said, reporting a number of casualties.
“The Syrian army is bombarding Hama with heavy weapons, using rocket-propelled grenades,” said a statement from the Local Coordination Committees, which organizes anti-regime protests on the ground.
“The ‘shabiha’ (regime militiamen) and security agents backed up by tanks are pounding all parts of the Baba Qibli neighborhood,” said the LCC.
“There will be dead and wounded. Houses have collapsed,” it said, adding about 4,000 soldiers supported by tanks were in the rebel town 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Damascus.
Gulf monitors leave Syria
Meanwhile, Gulf Arab monitors headed out of Syria on Wednesday after their governments said they were “certain the bloodshed and killing of innocents would continue,” and the Arab League sought U.N. support for a plan to end President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
But their colleagues in Damascus pledged to pursue an observer mission, now extended until Feb. 23, to verify Syria’s compliance with an earlier Arab peace plan.
“The departure of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries will not have an impact on the mission’s work. We are all professionals here and we can do the job,” said a senior Arab monitor, who asked not to be named.
“We were around 170 or so and now with them leaving we are around 120,” the monitor said. “We need more monitors of course and more will come soon to replace those who left.”
Monitors from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain left the Syrian capital and those from other Gulf states were expected to leave the Syrian capital soon.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Araby and Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who heads the League’s committee on Syria, wrote jointly to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon setting out the plan for a political solution in Syria.
The letter asks for a “joint meeting between them in the U.N. headquarters to inform the Security Council about developments and obtain the support of the Council for this plan,” a League statement said, according to reuters.
Several diplomats at the United Nations said France and Britain were working with Qatar and other Arab delegations on a new draft resolution supporting the Arab League plan.
The Arab League call for Assad to step down will raise pressure on Russia to explain why it is still blocking U.N. action to stop the bloodshed in Syria, where Moscow has called for a dialogue.
Syrian opposition groups have accused the observers mission, which began on Dec. 26, of giving Assad diplomatic cover to pursue a crackdown on protesters and rebels in which more than 5,000 people have been killed since March, by a U.N. tally.
The opposition Local Coordination Committees reported 68 deaths of civilians and army deserters on Tuesday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the toll at 35.
The government says it is fighting foreign-backed Islamist “terrorists” who have killed 2,000 soldiers and police. The state news agency SANA said 16 more were buried on Tuesday.
The revolt in Syria was inspired by others that have toppled three autocratic Arab leaders and the bloodshed has battered Assad’s standing in the world, with Iran among his few remaining allies.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem wrote to the Arab League accepting an extension of the monitoring mission, even as he scornfully rejected the 22-member body’s call for Assad to hand power to his deputy and allow a new unity government to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections.
“Definitely the solution in Syria is not the solution suggested by the Arab League, which we have rejected. They have abandoned their role as the Arab League and we no longer want Arab solutions to the crisis,” Muallem declared on Tuesday.
“Heading to the Security Council will be the third stage in their plan, and the only thing left is the last step of internationalization,” he told a news conference in Damascus.
“They can head to New York or to the moon. So long as we are not paying for their tickets it is none of our concern.”
Muallem poured contempt on the League’s call for Assad to hand power to a unity government to defuse the violence.
He said that while “half the universe is against us,” Syria’s long-time ally and arms supplier Russia, which wields a veto on the Security Council, would never permit foreign intervention. “That is a red line for them.”
Britain, France and the United States chastised Moscow on Tuesday for continuing to arm Syria despite the upheaval there.
A Western diplomat at the Security Council said: “The Arabs have said that they want a resolution that has consensus agreement, and of course we’ll work for that.”
“We always work for consensus in the council, but sometimes that’s not possible, as with our Syria resolution,” the diplomat added, referring to a Western-drafted resolution on Syria that was vetoed by Russia and China in October.