President Bashar al-Assad of Syria beseeched a five-nation group of emerging powers on Wednesday to help halt the Syrian conflict, one day after the Arab League moved to further isolate Mr. Assad by ceremoniously filling his government's vacant seat with the opposition coalition that has sworn to topple him.
In a letter addressed to the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- the so-called BRICS group of developing nations, which convened a summit meeting in Durban, South Africa -- Mr. Assad sought to frame his request as a plea for assistance in the fight of good against evil. He depicted the opposition forces as terrorists bent on destroying Syria with help from a conspiracy of hostile Arab and Western countries.
"You, with all the huge political, economic and cultural weight you represent that seeks to consolidate peace, security and justice in the troubled world of today, are called upon to exert all possible efforts to end the suffering of the Syrian people," Mr. Assad said in the letter, as reported by SANA, the official Syria news agency. He called the BRICS group "a just force that seeks to spread peace, security and cooperation among countries away form hegemony, its dictates and oppression which have lasted for decades upon our peoples and nation."
But there was no indication that the BRICS group would align itself with Mr. Assad in the conflict, which has left more than 70,000 people dead and millions displaced.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the summit meeting, the member countries said, "We express our deep concern with the deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in Syria and condemn the increasing violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law as a result of continued violence."
The communiqué also said the BRICS countries believed that an agreement reached in Geneva on June 30 under the auspices of the United Nations and the Arab League, aimed at creating a transitional government in Syria, "provides a basis for resolution of the Syrian crisis and reaffirms our opposition to any further militarization of the conflict."
In a passage that was welcomed by rights groups, which have been critical of the Assad government's control over where and how international humanitarian aid is distributed inside Syria, the communiqué urged all parties "to allow and facilitate immediate, safe, full and unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations to all in need of assistance."
Carroll Bogert, the deputy executive director for external relations at Human Rights Watch, who was observing the BRICS meeting, said that passage was potentially significant, particularly if Russia and China, the two BRICS members that have defended Mr. Assad's government, now pressure him on the aid issue. If that pressure is not forthcoming, she said in a telephone interview, "they've made a pretty weak statement on Syria."
Russia and China, which are both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, have repeatedly thwarted attempts by Western and Arab members to punish Mr. Assad for his repression of a political uprising that began two years ago and has turned into a civil war.
Brazil, India and South Africa have sought to be more neutral, urging antagonists in the conflict to negotiate a political solution.
On Wednesday, Russia expressed its unhappiness about the Arab League's decision to award the Assad government seat to the opposition group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, done with fanfare at a summit meeting in Doha, Qatar, the previous day. Syria was suspended from the 22-nation Arab League in November 2011.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site that the Arab League's decision in filling the seat was "unlawful and invalid" and "completely counter to the common understanding of the need for a peaceful political settlement in Syria and ways to achieve it."
The opposition coalition's leader, Sheik Moaz al-Khatib, who took the seat to the applause of fellow Arab League members, castigated Mr. Assad's government in an emotional acceptance speech, asserting, "What is happening in Syria is a struggle between freedom and slavery, between justice and injustice."
In terms that oddly foreshadowed Mr. Assad's own plea to the BRICS countries, Sheik Moaz said the uprising against Mr. Assad was a reflection of resolve by all Syrians who "can no longer tolerate the ongoing slaughter of the Syrian people," and vowed that his group would now seek wider recognition, including Syria's seat at the United Nations.
Russia's disapproval of the Arab League decision was echoed by Iran, Mr. Assad's only regional ally. Iran's deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, criticized what he called "hasty measures taken by certain countries by giving the Syrian government's seat at the Arab League to unauthorized people," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. It quoted him as saying the decision signified "the end of the role of the Arab League in the region."
Sheik Moaz also used his Arab League acceptance speech to publicly call on NATO to expand its Patriot missile defense shield, now deployed in southern Turkey, to include insurgent-held areas of northern Syria. But NATO, which has made clear that it does not want to become entangled militarily in the Syrian conflict, rejected that request.
The NATO rejection irked Sheik Moaz, who made his feelings known on Thursday at a ceremony in which Qatar, a major supporter of his group, allowed it to occupy Syria's embassy, which has long been vacant. "Frankly, I got surprised today," Sheik Moaz said. "I had made a request yesterday, to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missiles to cover one hundred kilometers for civilians to defend themselves. For the people, not the revolution. A few hours later they made a statement saying they won't do that."
Rick Gladstone reported from New York, and Hala Droubi from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Lydia Polgreen contributed reporting from Johannesburg.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.