Russia Says It Won't Play Role in Ousting Syria's Leader

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MOSCOW -- The foreign minister of Russia, which is among Syria's most reliable allies, said Saturday that several countries were offering asylum to President Bashar al-Assad to get him to leave Syria, but that Moscow would not mediate on their behalf, according to Russian news services.

"Some countries in the region have turned to us and suggested, 'Tell Assad we are ready to fix him up,' " the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, told reporters who accompanied him on a flight home from the Russia-European Union summit meeting in Brussels, in comments carried by the Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies. "And we answered, 'What do we have to do with it? If you have such plans, approach him directly.' "

"If there are people wishing to give him some kind of guarantees, be our guest," he said. "We will be the first to cross ourselves and say, 'Thank God, the carnage is over.' Whether this will end the carnage -- that is far from obvious. It is not obvious at all."

He also said that Syria's government had brought together its chemical weapons from a large number of locations throughout the country to one or two central storage places to keep them out of rebel hands.

Mr. Lavrov's comments follow recent signals from Russia that it sees the military balance shifting, though Moscow has not changed its strong opposition to international intervention in Syria. Rebel fighters are claiming gains in the war, pushing aggressively toward government strongholds near Damascus, the capital, and in the central Syrian city of Hama. Last week, opposition fighters tried to occupy the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, which they said they had planned to use as a staging ground for attacks on central Damascus, setting off a fierce battle that caused most of the camp's residents to flee.

On Saturday afternoon, a car bomb detonated in the Damascus suburb of Qaboun, killing at least six and destroying buildings and wounding scores of people on a commercial street.

Qaboun is less than two miles from central Damascus in a belt of restive suburbs where the rebels have had a presence for more than a year.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.

Fighting continued Saturday in central Syria, where rebels have been attacking government checkpoints and positions in an effort to cut the military's supply routes to Idlib Province in the north. In a video posted online Friday, rebel fighters threatened violence against the residents of two Christian villages in Hama Province if they did not evict loyalist fighters known as shabiha.

In the video, an opposition fighter said that a rebel group that raided one village was attacked by "shabiha hiding behind houses" and that the rebels withdrew "to spare civilians." If residents did not evict the government loyalists, the fighter warned, the rebels would "direct our artillery" at their hiding places.

The warning was met with alarm by a resident of one of the villages, al-Suqaylabiyah. The man, who is currently in Turkey, said that the village was 95 percent Christian and that the residents, some of whom, he said, had been given arms by the government, had chosen not to take sides. The appearance of the men in the video -- "very Islamic and militarized," he said -- was unlikely to win the rebels any support. "They want to horrify the town," said the man, a doctor. On Saturday, Mr. Lavrov said he believed both American and European supporters of the opposition coalition were losing their ability to influence antigovernment forces in Syria, according to news services.

"We ask the Americans, 'You promised us that you would be able to draw them away from their militant and hard-line position,' " he said. " 'What have you done to make that happen?' They are silent.

"We also asked our friends from the European Union, who also recognized that coalition as the representatives of the Syrian people," he added. "They are also silent."

Ellen Barry reported from Moscow, and Kareem Fahim from Beirut, Lebanon. Hala Droubi contributed from Jidda, Saudi Arabia, and Hwaida Saad from Beirut.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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