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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Russia accuses West of distorting Syrian accord, plans meeting with opposition

Russia on Tuesday accused the West of seeking to “distort” the agreement reached last weekend in Geneva on a plan for a political transition to end the escalating conflict in Syria.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hailed the accord as an “important step” but added, “unfortunately... some Western participants have started in their public statements to distort the agreements that were reached” in Geneva.

Lavrov’s statement came after some optimism was expressed by the spokesman of peace envoy Kofi Annan.

The spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, said on Tuesday that the “shift” in the positions of Russia and China on Syria should not be underestimated. “Many forces have joined hands here on Saturday ... don’t underestimate the shift particularly from Russian and China.”

A ceasefire in Syria is vital if there is to be a political transition, he added.

In related news, Lavrov said he would meet Syrian opposition leaders in Moscow next week to discuss the possibility of ending violence in the country.

“We will use this coming meeting with yet another Syrian opposition group to continue work to end violence and start Syrian dialogue between the government and all groups of the Syrian opposition as soon as possible,” Lavrov said at a briefing with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh.

It was not clear which members of the fractured opposition movement he would meet.

Russia won’t attend Paris meeting

Meanwhile, Russia will not attend a Friends of Syria meeting in Paris on Friday which seeks to co-ordinate Western and Arab efforts to stop the violence in the country, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

“Russia was invited. They made it known that they did not want to participate, which is not a surprise,” he told reporters. Russia, an ally of Syria, did not attend previous meetings of the group.

Syrian troops pound Homs

Syrian regime forces pounded several rebel-held districts in the central city of Homs on Tuesday, as the death toll mounted across the country, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Fourteen people were killed in new violence on Tuesday, bringing to nearly 100 the death toll in the past two days, the Britain-based watchdog reported.

A civilian and a rebel fighter were killed in Homs, it said, as clashes raged around the neighborhood of Baba Amr, a former rebel stronghold which the army seized on March 1 after a fierce 27-day assault.

Several rebel-held districts of Homs have been besieged by the army for almost a month, activists say. On Monday troops tried to storm the district of Jourat al-Shiah, according to the Observatory.

Troops also rained shells on areas of the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the 16-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, killing five people, the watchdog said.

In the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, much of which is rebel-controlled, snipers shot dead a child while four soldiers were killed in clashes with the armed insurgents, the Observatory said.

The Local Coordination Committees - a network of activists on the ground - said “125 families fled the city of Deir Ezzor and its suburbs ... as a result of the unrelenting military attacks.”

A rebel and a civilian were also killed in violence elsewhere in the country, the Observatory said.

Earlier it reported at least 78 people were confirmed killed in violence across Syria on Monday, 44 of them civilians.

The watchdog also said it had received reports that 15 people were shot dead in a village of the central province of Hama, although it had been unable to confirm the names of those killed in the Sunni-populated village of Douma.

The reported killings followed the assassination in the area late on Sunday of three pro-government militiamen.

More than 16,500 people have been killed in violence in Syria since the uprising erupted in March last year, according to the Observatory.

This figure is impossible to independently verify and the United Nations no longer publishes its own estimates of the death toll.

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