Diplomacy: Assad is not firing artillery at civilians, claims Russia

Kim Sengupta
Thursday 09 February 2012 01:00 GMT

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Louise Thomas

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There is no proof that Bashar al-Assad's regime is using its heavy weapons to bombard Homs, the Russian Foreign Minister is said to have declared yesterday. Sergei Lavrov's comments on the besieged city came during a telephone conversation with the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, as the Syrian opposition reported dozens more dead and injured.

During the half-hour conversation, Mr Lavrov – according to senior diplomatic sources – stated that Mr Assad had assured him he was not using heavy weapons in urban conflict zones like Homs and had no intention of doing so. The television images of killings and destruction showed just one side of the story, Mr Lavrov held.

Mr Hague is said to have assured Mr Lavrov that "Syria was not Libya" and that the UK has no intention of a military entanglement. He raised the issue of continuing arms sales by Moscow to the Assad regime, which drew the riposte from Mr Lavrov that this was not illegal.

Mr Lavrov, who visited Damascus on Tuesday, defended the use of the veto, along with China, to block a UN resolution calling on Mr Assad to stop attacks on his own people and step down. The Foreign Minister insisted that the removal of the Syrian President cannot be a precondition for a negotiated end to the strife.

In the Commons, David Cameron was dismissive of Russia's unilateral attempt at a diplomatic intervention, saying he had "very little confidence" it would end the fighting. He told MPs the international community had now to work with Syrian opposition groups to co-ordinate a response to the Assad regime.

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