Russia softens and offers to back Annan's Syria plan at UN

Russia offered heavily-qualified support yesterday for a United Nations initiative to end the bloodshed in Syria, as opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's regime faced an intensifying struggle to oust him.

Moscow's willingness to support the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's mediation mission, provided it did not present an ultimatum to the Syrian President, came as rebel groups came under renewed pressure.

With rebel fighters fleeing the eastern city of Deir al-Zor in the face of a fierce armoured assault, the opposition was sharply criticised by a human rights group for exploiting sectarian tensions and carrying out kidnappings, torture, arbitrary detentions and executions.

Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, was quick to put conditions on Russia's provisional backing for Mr Annan's mission, which is intended to bring about a ceasefire, the delivery of humanitarian aid and dialogue between the Assad regime and the opposition.

In particular, Mr Lavrov insisted that opposition groups had an equal responsibility for ending the violence, a view which was in sharp contrast to the US position – reiterated by a State Department spokesman, Victoria Nuland, on Monday – that "it is the regime that bears primary responsibility for the violence, and they need to stop first".

Human Rights Watch, which has led criticism of rights violations by the Damascus regime during the fighting, complained in an open letter to the opposition Syrian National Council that some armed attacks by opposition fighters were motivated by religious and sectarian sentiments because some communities had seemed to ally with the government. Some members of minorities fear the consequences of a Sunni Muslim takeover if President Assad's Allawite leadership is deposed.

While Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, said fighters carrying out the serious abuses did not appear to be answerable to any central command, she added: "The Syrian government's brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups. Opposition leaders should make it clear to their followers that they must not torture, kidnap or execute under any circumstances."

The flight of relatively lightly-armed rebels from Deir al-Zor yesterday followed other retreats from towns and cities. A statement by Deir al-Zor's Revolution Committees' Union said: "Tanks entered residential neighbourhoods, especially in south-eastern areas of Deir al-Zor. The Free Syrian Army pulled out to avoid a civilian massacre."

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 31 people were killed in Syria yesterday – 21 of them in Homs province, which came under heavy artillery fire. Opposition sources told the Associated Press news agency that residential areas in the city of Hama and the town of Rasta were shelled.

Meanwhile, Mr Lavrov dismissed as "fairy tales" reports that a Russian ship docked at the Syrian port of Tartus was delivering weapons or special forces troops to aid President Assad. He said it was refuelling Russian warships on anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Sport
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
i100
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam