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Assad Tells Annan 'Terrorists' Block Solution, As Violence Continues

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (file photo)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan his government is ready for "any honest effort" to end the violence, but blamed "terrorists" for blocking a solution.

State news agency SANA quoted Assad as saying political dialogue can't be successful "while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability."

Annan, a former UN secretary general, made no public comment after the meeting.

The opposition on March 9 rejected Annan's suggestions of dialogue, saying it was impossible to talk to Assad's regime after a crackdown that the UN estimates has killed more than 7,500 people. Activists put the toll even higher, at more than 8,000.

In Cairo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a heated meeting with his Arab League counterparts about the situation in Syria.

Lavrov told Arab diplomats that Moscow was "not protecting any regimes," seeking to defend Moscow's stance of blocking increased international pressure at the United Nations on the Assad regime.

Russia -- a long-time ally of Assad's -- and China last month vetoed a draft UN resolution aimed at pressuring Assad to give up power.

At a joint news conference after the meeting, Lavrov and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani announced they had agreed on five common points.

Lavrov presented them as: "First, an end to all violence no matter from what source. Second, the creation of an objective, independent monitoring mechanism. Third, no interference from outside. Fourth, the unhindered provision of humanitarian aid to all Syrians. Fifth, our firm support for the mission of Kofi Annan, with the goal of beginning a political dialogue between the government and all opposition groups on the basis of the mandate that has been approved by the United Nations General Assembly and the Arab League."

Lavrov and Thani did not take any questions from reporters.

The diplomatic efforts came against a backdrop of fierce fighting between Assad's troops and rebel fighters in the northwestern province of Idlib, where the Free Syrian Army has been active.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops killed 16 rebels in an ambush in the province on March 10 while the rebels killed four soldiers and captured five.
With Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa reporting

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