Assad in bind as ally Russia unscrews ties

Assad in bind as ally Russia unscrews ties

Moscow blames his govt for Houla massacre,Annan arrives for talks

Russia further backed away from its support of Syrian President Bashar Assad Monday,saying his government bears the main responsibility for the violence in the country and calling for a full investigation into its role in the deaths of more than 100 civilians in Houla.

“Both sides have obviously had a hand in the deaths of innocent people,including several dozen women and children. This area is controlled by the rebels,but it is also surrounded by government troops,’’ Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after talks in Moscow with visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Lavrov spoke a day after Russia joined the rest of the UN Security Council in blaming the Syrian government for attacking residential areas in Houla,a collection of villages near Homs. The council,however,avoided saying who was responsible for the massacre of at least 108 men,women and children.

Lavrov said there was no doubt that government forces had used artillery and tanks to shell Houla,but he noted that many of the dead appeared to have been shot at close range or tortured.


“The guilt has to be determined objectively,’’ he said. “No one is saying that the government is not guilty,and no one is saying the armed militants are not guilty.’’

In some of Russia’s harshest criticism of Assad to date,Lavrov said his government “bears the main responsibility for what is going on’’ because it is failing to provide for the security of Syrian citizens. He hedged the criticism by claiming that Syria’s government is facing an increased threat from terrorists,whose bombings have the “clear signature of al-Qaida.’’

Lavrov and Hague called for greater efforts to implement a peace plan proposed by special envoy Kofi Annan,who arrived in Damascus Monday for talks with Assad and other Syrian officials. His six-point plan calls on both sides to respect a ceasefire.

Lavrov said “we don’t support the Syrian government,we support Annan’s plan”. He,however,hinted that Moscow,unlike the West did not want Assad to step down.

China Monday also condemned the killings in Houla and called for an end to the violence,but gave no indication it was rethinking its strategy toward the fighting in Syria.