25 Killed in Syria, Russia OK With An Assad Departure

Posted June 9th, 2012 at 12:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Activists say at least 25 people were killed in anti-government related violence in Syria Saturday, while Russia said it would not object to the departure of Syria's president, under certain conditions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 17 people were killed as government forces pounded targets in the southern city of Dara'a. The British-based opposition group says at least eight other people died in shelling and clashes in other areas between pro-government and opposition forces in other areas, including the flashpoint Homs region.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would not object to the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, if that is the result of a dialogue among Syrians, and not external pressure.

He spoke with reporters Saturday, a day after his deputies discussed Syria's political turmoil with a U.S. envoy.

Members of the opposition Syrian National Council had mixed views on whether Lavrov's comments represent a new stance for Russia, which has been a strong backer of the Assad government.

Council member Ausama Monajed tells VOA Lavrov's remarks are “rhetoric.”

“What kind of dialogue? If you have a brutal, bloody mafia regime killing its own people, slaughtering children and women, and then you say dialogue, how would you have dialogue with someone who is pointing a gun at your head?”

Syrian National Council member Basma Kodmani says the Syrian government violence and brutality is becoming an embarrassment to Russia.

“I think what we are seeing now is gradually, but we hope very quickly, a change of position by Russia to put it in a situation where it can this time contribute positively to finding a very quick solution to the situation.”

Kodmani is in Istanbul, where opposition groups are meeting to select a new leader of the Syrian National Council.

The council, an umbrella group of opposition factions, has been dogged by internal wrangling, and criticism from both inside and outside Syria led to the resignation last month of Burhan Ghalioun.

The VOA reporter in Istanbul says the only current candidate for the leadership post is Abdul-Basset Sayda, a Kurdish activist who heads the SNC's human-rights department.

Meanwhile, U.N. observers toured suburbs of Damascus Saturday to assess the damage from overnight clashes.

The U.N. teams are monitoring Syrian compliance with the stalled peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan. The former U.N. secretary-general called for more pressure on Syria during talks in Washington Friday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Assad government contends “armed gunmen” and “terrorists” carry out the deadly attacks that have killed so many civilians recently. Others blame the bloodshed on Syrian government forces and pro-Assad militias.

The state news agency SANA said funerals were held across the country Saturday for 57 law enforcement officers and civilians killed by “terrorists.”