Putin no longer backs Assad: Cameron

2012-06-20 07:59

Los Cabos/ Beirut - Britain's prime minister said on Tuesday Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it clear at the G20 summit in Mexico he wants President Bashar al-Assad out of power in Syria, but Putin indicated that Syrians should decide if Assad stays and Assad's forces bombarded the city of Homs and clashed with rebels.

Russia has been the staunchest backer of Assad and his military crackdown against militants and protesters in Syria, including supplying arms to the Syrian government.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin had shifted his view of the Syrian leader during talks with US President Barack Obama and other world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, and that discussions were now focused on a transition of power in Syria.

"There remain differences over sequencing and the shape of how the transition takes place but it is welcome that President Putin has been explicit that he does not want Assad remaining in charge in Syria," Cameron told reporters.

"What we need next is an agreement on a transitional leadership which can move Syria to a democratic future that protects the rights of all its communities," Cameron added.

But Putin said at his own news conference at close of G20 summit: "I feel like I have to repeat our position. We believe that nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be brought to power, who should be removed from power."

Observers targeted

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Labrov said Cameron's statement that Putin does not want Assad to remain in power "does not correspond to reality".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Cameron were present with Obama for the talks with Putin.

The chief UN monitor for Syria told the Security Council that his military observers were repeatedly targeted by hostile crowds and gunfire at close range last week before his decision to suspend operations, UN diplomats said.

Separately, a cargo ship off the British coast carrying weapons bound for Syria has apparently turned back towards Russia, Britain's Foreign Secretary said, calling again for a halt to arms shipments to Assad.

The Curacao-flagged cargo ship Alaed, last seen off the north-west coast of Scotland this week, was believed to carrying Russian weaponry to Syria, according to an insurer that said it had withdrawn coverage for the vessel.

The Pentagon said Russia's military was preparing to send three ships to Syria but noted that Moscow's stated intention was to send supplies and personnel to its naval facility in the Mediterranean port of Tartus.

Thousands killed

Alarmed but apparently impotent to resolve the crisis, the outside world is deeply divided in its response to an increasingly sectarian conflict that threatens to become a proxy war for regional powers.

The United Nations estimates more than 10 000 people have been killed in 15 months of violence and unrest.

Western nations and their Sunni Muslim allies in the Gulf and Turkey seek Assad's overthrow but are wary of intervention, while Russia, China and Shi'ite Iran - Assad's strategic ally - have protected Assad from a tough international response.

A resident in Homs said the sound of explosions could be heard across the city, and activists also reported shelling in the Damascus suburb of Douma and fighting between soldiers and rebels in northern Aleppo province near the border with Turkey.

The violence is the latest wave of relentless bloodshed that led United Nations observers - who were sent to Syria to monitor a ceasefire deal brokered by international mediator Kofi Annan - to halt operations on Saturday.

General Robert Mood of Norway, chief UN monitor for Syria, told the 15-nation Security Council behind closed doors that his 300-strong unarmed observer force was targeted with gunfire or by hostile crowds at least 10 times last week, UN diplomats present at the meeting said on condition of anonymity.

Mood said that "indirect fire" incidents in which gunfire struck within 300-400m of observers occurred on a daily basis, envoys said. Last week, nine vehicles of the observer mission, known as UNSMIS, were struck or damaged, they added.

Peace plan ignored

One diplomat said Mood spoke of "several hundred indirect fire incidents".

Last week UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said that after 15 months of fighting Syria was now in the throes of a full-scale civil war. Ladsous also addressed the council and emphasised that the situation on the ground was too dangerous to allow the monitors to conduct normal patrols.

Some Western diplomats have suggested that there was little point in having UNSMIS remain in Syria when Assad's government has not only ignored Annan's peace plan but has stepped up its military assaults to seize rebel-held territory.

UNSMIS' 90-day mandate expires on 21 July and it is unclear whether the council will extend it.

Russia and Syria denied an Iranian media report that Syria would host Russian, Chinese and Iranian military forces for joint exercises. Iranian news agency Fars said 90 000 troops and hundreds of ships, tanks and warplanes from the four countries would take part in the war games on land and sea in Syria soon.

Activists say at least 2 000 people have been killed in Syria since Annan's 12 April ceasefire deal, intended to be the first stage in a political plan to resolve Syria's 15-month-old crisis, was supposed to put an end to the killing.

Blame game

"There are many buildings and houses completely destroyed [in Homs], and many injuries in the field hospitals which need surgery," said one resident of Syria's third biggest city, who gave his name as Nidal.

"There are many martyrs and no medicine."

Syria said on Tuesday it had tried to make arrangements through the UN monitors for evacuations from Homs and blamed rebel fighters for obstructing those efforts and accused them of using civilians as human shields.

But Nidal blamed security forces, who he said opened fire on a Red Crescent vehicle as it tried to ferry people out of the centre of the city.

Activists said violence flared across the country on Tuesday and state media said rebels blew up two oil pipelines.

SANA news agency said an "armed terrorist group" attacked oil derivatives pipeline linking Homs and Damascus in the Sultaniya area of southern Homs, causing a fire and heavy smoke that residents said was visible from the centre of the city.

A crude oil pipeline in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor was also blown up. SANA quoted an oil ministry source as saying pumping was expected to resume in the next few days, adding that the same pipeline had been targeted twice in the last two weeks.

  • fidel.mgoqi - 2012-06-20 08:18

    "that President Putin has been explicit that he does not want Assad remaining in charge in Syria," Cameron told reporters. "We believe that nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be brought to power, who should be removed from power." It is quite amazing that the editors of News24 see it fit to come up with a headline that is totally opposite to the structure of the article itself. Russian position has been consistent, no outside interference in the political decisions of sovereign states.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-06-20 09:24

      You seem to be sooo unhappy with News24 One must wonder why you don't go to a Russian or Iranian ( English language ) news site. The possible reason; There will be even less readers who will agree with your political views !!!!!!

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-06-20 09:49

      Hoe veel keer moet ek vir jou se dat die is nie oor "group think" nie?

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-06-20 11:09

      Fidel, Thank you for trying to send me a comment in my mother tongue , but Afrikaans it is not my language, and although I can partly understand, I have difficulty reading and writing it. But, thank you for the effort.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-11-06 21:07

      "The Russian position has been clear: no outside interference". You have to smoking and pimping the strongest drugs into your mind to believe this. Putin himself has told you he's arming Assad.

  • AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-06-20 09:16

    There is no doubt that Russia's support for this assad terrorist is no longer tenable. Every decent person in the world wants this assad thug out of Syria. Syria is not his country, his father stole it from the Syrian people. And to claim that nobody has a right to interfere in Syrians civil war, is totally absurd. If an unelected monster is slaughtering his 'own' citizens, it not only the right of the outside world to interfere, but its duty 1!!

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-06-20 11:47

      Russia is not supporting Assad, but a principle, which rightly seeks to outlaw regime change.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-06-20 12:05

      Than it is a shocking principle , and it shows clearly, that the Russian leadership has no class, and no decency in them. They SHOULD remove this assad TERRORIST from power. THAT IS THEIR DUTY TO THE CIVILIANS OF SYRIA!!! Syria is a country under siege by a bunch of TERRORISTS, under the command of this EVIL and VIOLENT assad family!!!

      fidel.mgoqi - 2012-06-20 12:19

      A lot of people, especially in the developing world have suffered because of regime change, being instigated by foreign powers because they do not agree with the policies or politics of the local government. All of this was done covertly offcourse using contras, the so called colour revolutions and mercenaries. Russia is putting a stop to this gross violation of an independent state's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-06-20 14:43

      Let me assure you, when this assad is overthrown, by whomever, the Syrian people will NOT suffer, they will be overjoyed to have THEIR country back !!!!

      keith.f.murphy - 2012-06-21 15:47

      Anthonyfrom africa you are and idiot with a brainless skull get yourself a nice spear to make ur poepsak happy you scumbag

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-06-21 18:24

      Keith, Than ,rather a brainless skull, than one full of filth !!! Enjoy your eveving Sir,

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-11-06 21:08

      Another crazy comment from Keith that is like to last one minute on this site.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-11-06 21:13

      Every illegitimate leader throughout history has "outlawed regime change". Assad and Putin are no exceptions. It's VERY laborious watching the neo-Communist world change.

  • jaba.kov - 2012-06-20 13:59

    Good news - a step in the right direction... the rivers of blood in Syria are just too wide & Putin wants nothing to do with it anymore and rightly so. Although I must add that Russian armaments are the ones still doing the killings... even the opposition is using Russian made arms. And the Iranian troops fighting for Assad is Syria are also armed using the same Russian suppliers. The death toll is standing at 14000... With Russia out all we need is China to step aside and the Syrian civilians will be free in no time.

  • fred.fraser.12 - 2012-06-21 19:10

    It is unconscionable that the freer world has allowed an inexperienced, neo-Soviet leader to dictate world policy where an unelected leader, who has control of state resources and the military, is openly slaughtering civilians who want nothing more than basic human rights.

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