THE CAMERON & PUTIN TALKS / Syria Today: Russia Holds Off US and British Political Approach

LIVE COVERAGE SYRIA : Scott Lucas in EA Live, EA Middle East and Turkey, Middle East and Iran

11 May 2013 – 0710 GMT: Conflicting Reports of Battle for Town Near Lebanon Border

A “military source” has said the Syrian army has warned people that they evacuate the besieged town of al-Qusayr ahead of an assault. “Leaflets were dropped over al-Qusayr asking civilians to leave the city, with a map of a safe route by which to evacuate, because the attack against the city is coming soon if the rebels do not surrender,” the military source said. Activist Hadi al-Abdullah, a spokesperson for the Syrian Revolution General Commission, denied the claim: “I am in the town of Al-Qusayr, and this morning I visited two villages nearby, and I can assure you no leaflets were dropped anywhere near here.

Al-Abdullah added, “What is more worrying than that is that there is no safe exit for civilians. All of us here in Al-Qusayr have been condemned by the regime to a slow death. Every time civilians try to leave the town, they are shot or shelled at the town’s edges by tanks or snipers. We are trapped — civilians, activists and fighters together.”

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed alarm at reports of the military build-up, saying she feared further atrocities if the area was overrun. She said in a statement released by the UN:

    I am… very concerned by reports…that, as a result of a major military build-up by Syrian government forces and pro-government militias around the area of Al-Qusayr, near the border with Lebanon, the local civilian population is being increasingly displaced.

    It appears likely that this is in preparation for a large-scale attack to uproot the armed opposition from Al-Qusayr, and local people clearly fear a possible repeat of last week’s killings of civilians.

0650 GMT: Commander of Iran’s Armed Forces Praises Hezbollah, Assad

Maj. Gen. Seyed Hassan Firouzabadi, the Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, has praised Hezbollah’s role in “shaping the resistance” in Syria, according to Sepah News, the Revolutionary Guards’ official public relations site.

Firouzabadi said that Bashar al-Assad’s “strong will” coupled with Hezbollah’s “resistance” was consistent across Syria.

Syria’s victory against “idolatry, arrogance and Wahhabi extremism” was centred around Assad and had been achieved because of his “resistance and courageous intelligence and support for the Syrian national consciousness”, Firouzabadi said.

(Cross-posted from Iran Today)

0530 GMT: Casualties

The Local Coordination Committees claim 110 people were killed on Friday, including 31 in Hama Province, 24 in Damascus and its suburbs, 24 in Homs Province, and 20 in Aleppo Province. The Violations Documentation Center puts the confirmed death toll at 60,016 since the conflict begin in March 2011, an increase of 85 from Friday. Of those killed, 47,023 were civilians, a rise of 52 from yesterday.

0500 GMT: Russia Holds Off British Prime Minister Cameron in Talks

Friday’s visit by British Prime Minister David Cameron to Moscow, following up this week’s talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry with Russian President Vladimir Putin, appears to have produced little. Russian State media initially treated the Cameron approach with hours of criticism — his views diverged from those of responsible world leaders — or silence. Then, in a press conference after the talks, Putin put out the anodyne declaration of a “common interest in a speedy end to the violence, the launch of a peace process and the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty”.

The line from Cameron was also one of platitudes about “very substantive, very purposeful, and very useful” talks. The Prime Minister asserted, “The history of Syria is being written in the blood of her people,” and then said Russia and Britain had mutual goals to “end the conflict, to stop Syria fragmenting, to let the Syrian people choose, who governs them and to prevent the growth of violent extremism.”   

However, Cameron added, there was “no secret” that the two sides still had “differing views on how best to handle this situation”. London and Washington have put out a two-pronged message to Moscow. The first line is that Russia should withdraw its support for President Assad, on the political front through the insistence that he should remain in power during talks for a resolution and on the military front through arms supplies.

The second line is that, if Moscow does not make these accommodations, the US and Britain will lead multilateral efforts to increase support to the insurgency. Friday’s evidence is that Russia has held firm with a clear “No” to Washington’s British envoy.