BEIRUT

Middle East

Riyadh rules out political solution to Syrian crisis

  • Russian citizens wave from inside a bus shortly after crossing the border at Masnaa.

RIYADH/MOSCOW/BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Tuesday the scale of violence used by Syria’s government when fighting rebels meant a negotiated settlement of the country’s crisis was unthinkable.

Prince Saud al-Faisal’s statement came as two planes carrying around 80 Russians escaping the war in Syria left Beirut, in an operation that Moscow denied was the start of a mass exodus.

Saud told a news conference in Riyadh that “Damascus ... which has been a city for the longest period of time, is carpet bombed. How can you conceive of the possibility of a negotiated settlement with somebody who does that to his own country, to his own history, to his own people? It is inconceivable to us.”

He was speaking after an Arab summit focusing on economic development, which was not attended by Syria, where more than 60,000 of its citizens have been killed and more than 650,000 displaced during the 22-month-old rebellion, according to the United Nations.

Saud said the U.N. Security Council needed to take urgent action to end the crisis.

“We have a call to make to the Security Council, to finally show the responsibility that they must show ... or otherwise I think it is the duty of the General Assembly to censure the Security Council for failing in its duty,” he added.

Permanent Security Council members Russia and China have so far resisted calls to isolate Assad further.

Speaking in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed Saud’s remarks, saying he doesn’t see “much prospect of resolution” of Syria’s war by diplomacy.

At his first news conference of the year, the U.N. chief said “the calamity in Syria is without doubt our main immediate test.”

Ban said he conferred the day before with special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and that “our shared assessment is that we are still a long way from getting the Syrians together.”

Syria accused AlQaeda of being behind a deadly attack in rural Hama and criticized Turkey for sheltering what it called “terrorists,” in a message to the U.N. aired by state television.

“Armed terrorist groups headed by Al-Qaeda targeted citizens yesterday in the town of Selemiya in a cowardly terrorist act and destroyed the national hospital,” the Foreign Ministry said in a letter to the U.N. secretary-general and head of the Security Council.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 42 people, both civilians and pro-regime militiamen, were killed Monday when a suicide car bomb struck a building used by paramilitary forces in Selemiya, in the central province of Hama.

Activists said that nearly 90 people were killed in violence around the country Tuesday.

“Terrorists are arriving in Syria via neighboring countries, including Turkey, which opens its doors unconditionally to all terrorists of the world to penetrate Syria,” the letter read.

“Damascus once again calls on the U.N. Security Council to condemn these terrorist acts committed on our soil, and calls for countries that are opposed to reconsider their positions, which do not serve world security and peace.”

Syria’s ally Russia expressed fear that the conflict in Syria between President Bashar Assad and rebel forces that began nearly two years ago could be protracted with no clear outcome.

“You know at first the forecasts were two to three months, four, and it is already two years,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

“So the situation can develop in different ways. I think it could become protracted in nature.”

Russia has come under repeated pressure from the West to call on the Syrian leader to quit but has insisted it is up to the Syrian people to decide their future.

Bogdanov also said his ministry wanted to have more contact with various Syrian opposition groups as it seeks to help broker a solution to the conflict.

Russian officials denied that the departure of 77 nationals from Syria implied a mass exodus was under way.

“We are not talking about a full evacuation ... It is not planned that everyone will leave,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov said, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

Russian authorities declined to say why the evacuation was happening via Lebanon, but the evacuees, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Star that concerns about the safety of Damascus airport was a factor. Rebel attacks on the airport have prompted many international airlines to suspend flights. Dozens of Russians arrived at Rafik Hariri International Airport in large white buses, escorted by Lebanese military police. Soldiers armed with assault rifles stood by as the families unloaded suitcases onto carts.

They arrived via the Masnaa border crossing, where formalities took several hours to complete because some of the Russians lacked the required paperwork.

A number of evacuees, who were mostly women and children, said that they decided to take a “vacation” following the completion of an examination period in Syrian schools. Several women who are married to Syrians said their husbands were remaining behind, and that they intended to return to Syria.

The Emergencies Ministry said it had no information about plans for more flights, and Foreign Ministry officials have not said whether further evacuations were planned. However, a source familiar with the evacuation effort said a total of 1,500 people were scheduled to be evacuated, over several stages.

The two planes departed for Russia at around 10 p.m. – with additional reporting by Rakan al-Fakih

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 23, 2013, on page 1.
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