Russian visit ends in talk of peace as shells rain on Homs

Foreign Minister's visit to Damascus brings pledges from Assad but no end to his bloody crackdown

Damascus

Russia thrust itself to the centre of faltering diplomatic efforts to curb the bloodshed in Syria yesterday, with its Foreign Minister insisting during a trip to Damascus that the regime was committed to stopping the violence even as the shells continued to rain down on the restive city of Homs.

Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting with the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, that the embattled leader had pledged to talk to the opposition, hold a referendum on a new draft of the constitution and expand an Arab League monitoring mission.

Although similar promises during the past 11 months of unrest have resulted in little change, Mr Lavrov deemed the meeting "very useful". Russia's Interfax news agency quoted him as saying: "The President of Syria assured us he was completely committed to the task of stopping violence regardless of where it may come from."

Earlier, Mr Lavrov received a rapturous welcome in Damascus, with crowds packing the roads along his route from the airport. Buses filled with chanting Assad supporters sped past with Syrian flags flying from the windows. "We love President Bashar al-Assad – do you love President Assad?" asked a beaming girl of about 12, as she browsed a street stall of regime paraphernalia for another trinket to match her Assad baseball cap, football scarf, T-shirt and badge.

But you do not have to venture far to see a different Damascus. Just outside the city centre towards the poorer, eastern suburbs that have seen outbursts of anti-regime unrest most shops were closed. The only public gathering was a queue snaking from a subsidised government bread shop, as residents jostled for the precious little cheap food available. There were no smiling children with Syrian flags painted on rosy cheeks. Instead, soldiers manned tense checkpoints, peering into every car that passed.

Beyond Damascus, the bombardment of the central city of Homs continued into a fourth day, with Syrian human rights groups estimating that another 15 people were killed. The government has so far refused media requests to visit Homs, making opposition and official accounts of events impossible to verify.

Back in the heart of the capital, it is hard to find anyone who will say a sceptical word. Their heroes of the day are the Russians and the Chinese, both of whom vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Saturday calling for all sides to stop fighting and for Mr Assad to cede power. One vendor in the middle of a pro-Assad rally claimed he had sold 2,000 Syrian, 400 Russian and 200 Chinese flags.

But a bystander grumbled that they had closed the schools and bussed in students and civil servants to give the impression of support for the regime. Another said Mr Lavrov's trip was a waste of time: "I don't believe it will take us anywhere."

Quite what Russia came away with after yesterday's meeting was unclear. Britain, the US and Arab nations are pursuing punitive measures, slapping on economic sanctions and recalling diplomats as they struggle to forge a new strategy for dealing with the belligerent regime, which according to some reports has caused more than 6,000 deaths since March last year.

Nikolaos van Dam, author of The Struggle for Power in Syria, said Mr Assad may be more likely to yield to pressure from his Russian allies, especially because they supply Syria with arms.

Suggested Topics
News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsAll just to promote a new casino
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
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

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java, AI)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-Office D...

Day In a Page

Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband