Syria’s civil war spilled over into neighbouring Lebanon once again yesterday, with gun battles in the northern city of Tripoli between supporters and opponents of president Bashar al-Assad’s regime that left four dead.
Nine Syrian judges and prosecutors also defected to the opposition. It was the latest setback for the regime, with rebels making gains in northern Syria and near Damascus, the capital.
Gerhard Schindler, chief of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service predicted the Assad regime would not survive.
“Signs are increasing that the regime in Damascus is in its final phase,” he was quoted as telling the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
In Geneva, the UN’s special representative for Syria and the Arab League, Lakdhar Brahimi, met with Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov and US deputy secretary of state William Burns.
They said in a joint statement that the situation in Syria was “bad and getting worse”, adding that a political process to end the conflict was “still necessary and still possible”.
Russia and the US have argued bitterly over how to address the conflict, which began with peaceful protests against Assad in Mar 2011 and escalated into a civil war that has killed about 40,000 people. Activists said 45 more were killed yesterday.
The US has criticised Russia for shielding the Assad regime, while Moscow has accused Washington of encouraging the rebels and being intent on regime change.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia agreed to take part in the Geneva talks on condition there would be no demand for Assad to step down.
Washington and its allies, including Turkey, have repeatedly called on Assad to leave power to help stop the bloodshed.
“We are not conducting any negotiations on the fate of Assad,” Lavrov said, adding that the Americans were wrong to see Moscow as softening its position on Syria. “All attempts to portray things differently are unscrupulous, even for diplomats of those countries which are known to try to distort the facts in their favour.”
Addressing fears that Assad could use chemical weapons, Lavrov again said the Syrian government has given assurances it has no intention of using the arms. He said the greatest threat is that they would fall into the hands of militants.
Lavrov met last week with Brahimi and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Dublin. Afterwards, Clinton said the US and Russia were committed to getting both sides to talk about a political transition.
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