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Russia's Lavrov Says Assad Ready For Talks


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Damascus on February 7

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Damascus on February 7

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has offered assurances that he is committed to ending the violence between Syrian forces and government opponents.

The news came as the ranks swelled of countries withdrawing their ambassadors from Damascus to protest the bloodshed.

Assad assured Lavrov that he was ready for talks with all political forces in Syria. Lavrov also said Assad expressed the hope that Arab League monitors would continue working in Syria and that the mission would be increased.

For his part, Lavrov expressed Moscow's readiness to help resolve the crisis in Syria on the basis of "the positions laid out in the Arab League initiative."

Assad supporters welcome Lavrov to Damascus.

Assad supporters welcome Lavrov to Damascus.

On February 4, Russia and China vetoed a proposed UN Security Council resolution drafted by the Arab League that called on Assad to step down.

Lavrov, who was accompanied on his Damascus trip by Russian Foreign Intelligence Director Mikhail Fradkov, was greeted in Syria by thousands of progovernment demonstrators waving Russian, Chinese, and Syrian flags and signs thanking Russian and China for vetoing the draft resolution.

Earlier in the week, Moscow offered to host talks between the Syrian government and opposition forces. That offer was accepted by Damascus but rejected by the opposition, which views Moscow as an ally of Assad's.

Meanwhile, France, Spain, and Italy have joined the United States and Britain in recalling their ambassadors from Damascus. Rome said it was recalling its envoy for consultations on what it described as an "extremely grave crisis."

Announcing plans to withdraw their envoys as well, members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council condemned what they called the "mass slaughter against the unarmed Syrian people."

A spokesman for the European Union said the bloc has no plans to withdraw the head of its delegation in Damascus.

Despite Assad's pledge to end the violence, the Syrian Interior Ministry said it would continue engaging "terrorist groups" in and around the city of Homs until security was restored.

A wounded girl in Baba Amro, a neighborhood of Homs

A wounded girl in Baba Amro, a neighborhood of Homs

Syrian activists say around 100 civilians were killed in the Homs area on February 6. That information could not be independently verified.

The Syrian Interior Ministry statement said six security troops have been killed and 11 wounded in the Homs operation.

In another development, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced plans for "a new initiative" on Syria in the wake of what he called the "fiasco" at the United Nations over the Russian and Chinese vetoes.

Erdogan offered few details of his proposal but said it would be a multilateral initiative by "those countries that stand by the people, not the Syrian government."

Rights groups estimate that more than 6,000 people have been killed since the outbreak of violence in Syria 11 months ago. The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) said at least 400 children have been killed and 400 detained in the Syrian crackdown.

"There are reports of children arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and sexually abused while in detention," the UNICEF statement said.

Compiled from agency reports

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