Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday both sides in the Syria conflict were responsible for the Houla massacre that left 108 dead and that ending the violence was the number one priority.
“Here we have a situation where both sides clearly had a hand in the fact that peaceful citizens were killed,” Lavrov said at a joint news conference with his British counterpart William Hague, adding that “who is in power” in Syria was less important than “ending the violence.”
Meanwhile, Hague said Russia and Britain agreed United Nations-Arab league envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan was “at the moment the only hope” for resolving Syria's crisis and that Russia had an important role to play.
“It is not as if the alternatives in Syria are the Annan plan or the Assad regime retaking control of the country,” Hague said after talks in Moscow with Lavrov.
“The alternatives are the Annan plan or ever increasing chaos in Syria and the descent closer and closer to all-out civil war and collapse.”
Hague said he urged Russia to put more pressure on the government of its Soviet-era ally to keep to the terms of Annan’s six-point proposal.
“It is urgent to make every effort to start the political process and to encourage -- of course, we must all encourage -- the Assad regime to implement the plan they have not yet implemented.
“I think that Russia has an important role to play in that, as we discussed today,” Hague said.
Lavrov said he and Hague agreed both the government and its foes must be pressured to end violence.
On Sunday, the United Nations unanimously condemned the killing of at least 108 people, including many children, in Houla, a sign of mounting outrage at the massacre that the government and rebels blamed on each other.
Lavrov also criticized nations “that say there is no Syrian solution without Assad’s exit from power,” adding that Moscow deeply alarmed that peace plan drawn up by Annan is not being implemented satisfactorily.
Annan is due to fly to Damascus on Monday and will hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday, Syria’s Ikhbariya television station said.
Annan brokered a ceasefire agreement last month which was aimed at stemming the violence in Syria after a year of protests against Assad and starting a process of political negotiations.
But hundreds of people have been reported killed since the truce was supposed to come into effect on April 12.
Western and Arab states opposed to Assad put the blame for the deaths squarely on the government, but Damascus rejected the charge and blamed “armed terrorist groups” for the bloodshed.
Russia appears to be following suit, stopping short of entirely blaming Assad’s forces for the killings. China has also done the same, condemning the violence but not the Syrian regime’s actions.
Lavrov said that the involvement of al-Qaeda in Syria is clear, adding that world powers should towards Annan’s plan, but not Syria regime change.