DAMASCUS / MOSCOW: Fighting raged in several Syrian flashpoints on Wednesday as key Damascus ally Moscow lashed out the opposition for its “obsession” with toppling President Bashar Assad.
“For now, everything is running up against the opposition’s obsession with toppling Bashar Assad’s regime,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
“As long as this irreconcilable position remains in place, nothing good can happen. Armed actions will continue and people will die,” he told reporters.
Lavrov said the opposition’s insistence on ousting Assad was blocking efforts to find a diplomatic solution backed by the former international peace envoy Kofi Annan and his successor, Lakhdar Brahimi.
In a telephone conversation with Brahimi, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi pledged “total support” for the envoy as he struggles to launch political talks to try to end the war.
Brahimi, criticized by Assad’s government, has so far failed to bring key players Russia and the United States in line behind a transition plan. Some diplomats and analysts have speculated that Brahimi, whose six-month mandate comes up for renewal in February, might be considering his future.
The Russian foreign minister also reiterated his country’s denials that it was staging a mass evacuation of its nationals from Syria, after nearly 80 of them were flown out Tuesday via Beirut.
But for the first time, Moscow acknowledged that it pulled the families of its diplomats out of Syria “long ago.”
He did not provide further details, but said that the embassy in Damascus was functioning normally.
For his part, Turkey’s foreign minister urged the international community to declare the Syrian regime’s bombardment of its own citizens a war crime and to insist on humanitarian access to areas of central Syria.
Ahmet Davutoglu said that “Aleppo and many other cities are being bombarded by airplanes indiscriminately.”
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he said, “this is a criminal act” even at a time of war.
“There should be a clear signal to the Syrian regime that what they have been doing, bombarding cities by airplanes, is a war crime,” he said, adding that he expected the U.N. Security Council to step in “to stop this bloodshed.”
“People are dying in Syria ... How long will we wait? ... The silence of the international community is killing people,” he added.
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief and ambassador to the U.S., said that “what’s happening in Syria goes beyond tragedy. It is truly a shameful situation where the world sits by and people are being killed every day, and nobody is ready to put a stop to it.”
Faisal commented that the Arab world lacks “the means to get involved ... It doesn’t have the air force, the navy, the army, the intelligence-gathering machinery to go and surgically stop this fighting.”
The fighting continued unabated inside Syria, with government airstrikes in the Damascus area and clashes and shelling in the southern province of Deraa and the central region of Homs, activists said.
In rural Aleppo, a regime rocket hit the village of Al-Butaltal, killing six members of a single family, including a man, his wife and their four children aged two to 11, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees.
Separately, NATO Patriot missiles deployed in Turkey to protect against a spillover of the conflict in Syria will be operational this weekend, a senior NATO officer said.
“We expect to have an initial operating capability this weekend, that’s what we’re aiming at. This is when we will have the capability to defend some aspects of the population,” said British Brigadier General Gary Deakin.
The first two Patriot missile batteries to operate have been supplied by The Netherlands and will deploy in the southern city of Adana, arriving on station at the weekend to plug in to the NATO command and communication network, he said.
Two German Patriot missile batteries will be positioned in the southeastern province of Kahramanmaras while a further two US batteries will stationed in Gaziantep, just 50 kilometers north of the border.
Each contributing nation has also sent up to 350 troops.
“The full capability, we expect to deliver at the end of the month,” the NATO officer said.
“We estimate that once it is in place at those locations, we will provide protection against missiles for up to 3.5 million Turkish people,” he added.
Turkey requested help from its NATO allies after shells landed on its border areas from Syria in October, killing several villagers.
Also, around 20,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan in the last seven days due to escalating violence in southern Syria, the fastest influx since the start of the uprising two years ago, Jordan’s foreign minister said.
“What we have seen in terms of influx of Syrian refugees coming to Jordan is ... unprecedented, larger than any other time in the last two years,” Nasser Judeh told Reuters. “We have had 20,000 Syrians coming into Jordan since last Thursday.”
He said 6,200 refugees had crossed within the past 24 hours. “We now stand at over 300,000 Syrians on Jordanian territory since March 2011,” he said.