Russia's foreign minister has made it clear that Moscow would not support a plan to send United Nations peacekeepers to Syria unless there was a halt to violence by both government forces and their armed opponents.
Serei Lavrov said on Monday that Russia was studying the proposal for a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force in Syria, announced on Sunday at an Arab League meeting in Cairo, and wanted more details.
But his remarks suggested his country, which has veto power at the UN Security Council, would use the proposal to underscore its own argument that the government's armed opponents are no less of an obstacle to peace than Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
UN peacekeeping missions "need to first have a peace to support," Lavrov told a news conference after talks with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister.
"In other words, it is necessary to agree to something like a ceasefire, but the tragedy is that the armed groups that are confronting the forces of the regime are not subordinate to anyone and are not under control," Lavrov said in Moscow.
Russia joined China on February 4 in a double veto to block a UN Security Council resolution supporting an Arab League call for Assad to quit, provoking strong criticism from the Western and Arab sates that supported the draft.
Bloodshed 'a disgrace'
On Sunday, the Arab League called on the UN Security Council to create a joint peacekeeping force for Syria and urged Arab states to sever all diplomatic contact with Assad's government.
Syria immediately rejected the move, spelled out in a resolution adopted by the league's foreign ministers meeting in Cairo.
Arab foreign ministers also decided to halt all diplomatic dealings with representatives of the Syrian government, though they did not demand the expulsion of Syrian ambassadors from member states.
Saud Al-Faisal, Saudi foreign minister, conveyed the 22-nation league's deep frustration with Syria, telling delegates that it was no longer appropriate to stand by and watch the bloodshed.
"Until when will we remain spectators?'' he said. The bloodshed in Syria, "is a disgrace for us as Muslims and Arabs to accept".
The new efforts came a week after Russia and China vetoed a resolution at the UN Security Council that would have supported an earlier Arab League plan for Assad to give up power and begin a transition to a new government.
But Nabil Elaraby, the league's chairman, said he had received a message from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that expressed support for the league's efforts and an expanded "observer" mission. Lavrov earlier defended Russia's veto and subsequently visited Assad in Damascus.
The league suspended an observer mission in Syria last month, and on Sunday that Elaraby accepted the resignation of Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, who led the troubled mission. Elaraby recommended appointing former Jordanian foreign minister and UN envoy to Libya Abdel Ilah al-Khatib as Dabi's replacement.
Syria responded saying it was determined to "restore security" regardless of the latest Arab League initiatives.
In a report Monday by SANA state news agency an unnamed government official said: "This decision will not prevent the Syrian government from fulfilling its responsibilities in protecting its citizens and restoring security and stability," the unnamed official was quoted as saying.
"Syria rejects decisions that are a flagrant interference in the
The European Union backed the proposal for an Arab-UN peacekeeping mission in Syria and urged the UN Security Council to act in order to stop the violence there.
"We welcome these bold decisions and the strong and clear commitment and leadership that the Arab League is taking to resolve the crisis in Syria," said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Asthon.
Syria's state news agency said the country rejected the Arab League decisions, which were taken without a Syrian representative present.
Syria's ambassador to the Arab League, Ahmed Youssef, was quoted as saying that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were "living in a state of hysteria after their last failure at the UN Security Council to call for outside interference in Syria's affairs and to impose sanctions on the Syrian people".
The United Nations has historically deployed armed peacekeepers only with the host country's consent.
Syrian forces continued their bombardment of the city of Homs, and activist groups said 67 people were killed during violence across the country on Saturday, including 14 defectors from the Syrian military.
Opposition neighbourhoods in Homs were hit by tank and rocket bombardments in the government's continuing crackdown on protesters there, with the city's Bab Amr area coming under intense fire.
Security forces have also made house-to-house raids over the last two days in Homs, which has been under siege for the last week, anti-government activists have said.
They say at least 300 people have been killed there since the government's latest assault began on February 4.
In Hama, the Syrian Revolutionary General Commission (SRGC), a rights group that has organised protests against Assad's rule, says that the army is continuing to maintain a heavy presence.
The group said troops raided the city's al-Sharia neighbourhood and that heavy gunfire and mass arrests were reported from there and at least three other districts.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|