Syria's Assad seeking help from developing nations

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Syria's President Bashar Assad beseeched a five-nation group of emerging powers 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 Syrian news agency.

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 communique 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 communique 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 communique 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."

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