West and Russia not discussing Assad’s departure: Lavrov

Russia denied today holding discussions with other nations on a political transformation in Syria that would include the departure of President Bashar al-Assad. (AFP)

Russia is not holding discussions with other nations on a political solution to the crisis in Syria that would see President Bashar al-Assad leaving power, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.

Lavrov also stressed that Russia would insist on Iran joining any future international talks on the crisis.

“I read somewhere today that supposedly, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said something along the lines of the United States and Russia discussing a political transformation in Syria after the departure of Bashar al-Assad,” Lavrov told reporters.

“If this was really said, this is not true. There were no such discussions and there could not have been such discussions. This completely contradicts our position,” he told reporters.

“We are not involved in regime change through either the U.N. Security Council or through involvement in sort of political conspiracies.”

Lavrov was speaking just a day after meeting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns in Kabul for talks that Washington described as “constructive.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had earlier on Friday also mentioned discussing a post-Assad Syria with Russia.

“The Russians are not today attached to the person of Bashar al-Assad,” Fabius said.

“They clearly see he is a tyrant and a murderer. But they are sensitive about who might take his place, if Assad is ousted. The discussion is about that,” he told France Inter radio.

Obstacles to U.N. and ICRC work

The escalating bloodshed in Syria is hampering a hard-won U.N. observer force’s ability to carry out its mission, its chief Major General Robert Mood said on Friday.

“The escalating violence is limiting our ability to observe, verify reports as well as assist in local dialogue and stability,” the veteran Norwegian peacekeeper told reporters in Damascus.

“Violence, over the past 10 days, has been intensifying, again willingly by both the parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers.”

A U.N. convoy trying to reach the town of Al-Haffa under siege by regime troops, came under fire on Tuesday and was forced to turn back by a stone-throwing crowd of pro-regime residents of a nearby village.

The observer team was finally able to visit the town on Thursday, finding it all but deserted with a strong stench of dead bodies and most state buildings burned to the ground.

Mood said it was the Syrian people who were suffering the consequences of the increased violence. “In some locations, civilians have been trapped by ongoing operations,” the general said.

“The six-point plan does not belong to Kofi Annan, it does not belong to UNSMIS (United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria). It belongs to the Syrian parties that have accepted it and the international community that endorsed it.

“There is no other plan on the table, yet it is not being implemented.”

Mood expressed concern that neither side was willing to bring about a “peaceful transition”.

“Instead there is a push towards advancing military positions,” he said.

“This is not a static mission,” he stressed, adding that the observer mission’s mandate would soon come under review by the Security Council.

“It is important that the parties give this mission a chance.”

From their side, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday it was working around the clock to provide food and medical assistance to thousands of civilians who have fled the escalating violence in Syria.

ICRC water engineers were also trying to upgrade supplies or deliver clean drinking water to the displaced staying in the flashpoint areas of Homs and Houla, it said.

“The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are carrying on with their efforts to help the tens of thousands of people in fighting-stricken areas in the shortest possible time,” it said in a statement issued in Geneva.

The ICRC, the only international agency to deploy aid workers in Syria, said its teams have visited Aleppo, Idlib city and surrounding rural areas, and al-Nabak, some 80 km (50 miles) northeast of Damascus, in the past week.

“More and more people are in need of help,” said Alexandre Equey, deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Syria. “In some areas, people are unable to get out, and help cannot get in.”

In a strategy aimed at ensuring supplies are on hand if fighting breaks out, it has delivered food, mattresses, blankets and medical items to branches of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent all over the country.

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