Middle East

Moscow says U.S. policy on Syria aids 'terrorism'

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari (R) meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at Baghdad's airport February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

DAMASCUS: Moscow accused Washington Thursday of prolonging the Syrian conflict by supporting the opposition, on the eve of a UN Security Council vote that threatens to further deepen big power divisions.

On the ground, a car bomb exploded at a border crossing between Syria and Turkey as rebels battled to prevent regime forces from seizing their last stronghold in the strategic Qalamun region.

And Syria's government media said Jordan was seeking to stir up the southern front in the country's conflict after a stalemate in peace talks held in Geneva this month.

Speaking in Baghdad, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said America's policy on Syria "encourages extremists who are financing terrorism and supplying terrorist organisations and groups with weapons".

"In the end, this will not result in anything except the escalation of the Syrian conflict," he said in remarks translated from Russian into Arabic.

Moscow is a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which has been battling an uprising that began in March 2011.

It supplies the government with weapons and provides diplomatic cover at the United Nations, where the Security Council is expected to vote Friday on a resolution on humanitarian aid for Syria.

The draft resolution was presented on Thursday but does not so far have Russian backing.

It calls on all parties to end sieges of densely populated areas immediately, including in central Homs, the Palestinian Yarmuk camp in Damascus and Ghouta on the outskirts of the capital.

It also calls for an immediate end to all attacks on civilians and for all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, to authorise humanitarian groups to deliver aid across front lines and borders.

This cross-border access has been sought for some time by humanitarian groups so aid can be shipped directly into Syria from neighbouring countries such as Iraq or Turkey.

The demands are addressed to both sides in the war but especially to the government, as the text said it is mainly responsible for protecting civilians.

The resolution has no clause allowing for sanctions in case of non-compliance.

A source in The Hague, meanwhile, said Syria was likely to miss a UN-backed June 30 deadline to destroy its chemical arsenal, possibly by months.

An Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) meeting on Friday is expected to hear calls for Syria to do more amid growing Western frustration with Damascus' perceived delays.

On the ground, meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a car bomb exploded at the Bab al-Salama crossing between Syria and Turkey.

The Observatory said at least five people were killed, while a Turkish official told AFP four people were killed and 45 wounded.

In Damascus province, rebels engaged in fierce clashes with regime forces backed by the pro-government National Defence Forces militia and fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah in Yabrud.

The town is the last remaining stronghold of the opposition in the strategic Qalamun region near the border with Lebanon.

It sits on the main highway between Damascus and the country's third city Homs and has been a key bastion for the opposition since early in the uprising.

The battle is also key for Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite movement, which says many of the explosive-packed cars that have blown up in attacks targeting its Lebanese strongholds came from Yabrud.

Syria's government daily Al-Thawra, meanwhile, accused Jordan of trying to stir up the southern front of the uprising, where rebels say they are preparing for a spring offensive against Damascus.

It said Jordan's efforts came after the stalemate at a second round of peace talks in Geneva this month.

"As the saying goes, those who play with fire will get burned, and so what then about those who start fires," the daily wrote.





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