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
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
arts + entsJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
football

Striker's four-month ban for biting an opponent expires on Friday

News
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
i100
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

Data Analyst/Planning and Performance – Surrey – Up to £35k

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Chemistry Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Secondary Science Teacher Jan 20...

English Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The Job:Te...

French Teacher for new post starting November 2014

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: the job ? We are looking for...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker