MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will offer Washington no explanation for arms deliveries to Syria and together with China will prevent the U.N. Security Council from approving any military intervention in the conflict-torn nation, its foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Using his annual news conference to draw lines in the sand on Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said veto-holding Security Council members Russia and China would stand firm against foreign intervention.
"We will insist - and we have an understanding with our Chinese colleagues that this is our common position - that these fundamental points be retained in any decision that may be taken by the U.N. Security Council," Lavrov said.
"If somebody intends to use force ... it will be on their conscience. They will not receive any authority from the Security Council," said Lavrov, who also emphasized that Russia and China oppose any sanctions against Syria.
Russia has been the most vocal supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a 10-month government crackdown that the United Nations says has killed more than 5,000 civilians, refusing to join calls for him to step down.
Russia joined China in October to veto a Western-backed resolution against Assad's government, saying the domestic opposition shared blame for the violence and that it would have opened the door for military action like NATO's Libya operation.
Russia submitted its own draft resolution last month and proposed a new version this week, but Lavrov indicated the council was deeply divided over the issue of where blame lies for the bloodshed and the possibility of military intervention.
He said Western members of the Security Council "are categorically determined to exclude from the resolution the phrase that (says) nothing in it can be interpreted as allowing the use of force."
Western diplomats in New York, however, suggested that Russia was playing for time in negotiations on the draft resolution. Two days of negotiations on revising the Russian text failed to resolve the deadlock and bridge differences between the Western and Russian camps.
"Russia's playing games," a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "Negotiations aren't really going anywhere. China and others would probably agree not to block a tougher resolution, but Russia isn't compromising."
The United States, France and Britain, along with Russia and China, are permanent Security Council members with the power to block any resolution from passage.
Moscow has close ties with Syria, a leading client for arms sales, and its naval maintenance facility in the port of Tartus is a rare outpost for Russia's shrunken post-Soviet military.
A Russian-operated ship carrying what a Cypriot official said was bullets arrived in Tartus last week from St. Petersburg after being held up in Cyprus.
The United States said it had raised concerns about the ship with Russia, but Lavrov said there was no need for an explanation.
"We don't consider it necessary to explain ourselves or justify ourselves, because we are not violating any international agreements or any (U.N.) Security Council resolutions," Lavrov told an annual news conference.
The U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said on Tuesday that the United States "would have very grave concern about arms flows into Syria from any source" and that it was unfortunate there was no U.N. arms embargo on Syria.
Russia says such an embargo would cut off supplies to the government while enabling armed opponents to receive weapons illegally. Lavrov repeated on Wednesday that Russia and China oppose any sanctions on Syria.
"The red line is quite clear: we will not support any sanctions, because unilateral sanctions have been imposed without any consultation with Russia or China," he said.
Syria accounted for 7 percent of Russia's total of $10 billion in arms deliveries abroad in 2010, according to the Russian defense think tank CAST.
also, russians maybe a bit overcaffeinated:
“I do not take offense when you pour diarrhea on me day in and day out, and yet you have taken offense,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Venediktov as the meeting came to a close, according to an official transcript. “I just said two words, and you took offense.” click here for link
"What's the matter with killing your own people? We do it all the time, works great."
Russia, China block anti-Assad resolution at UN amid Syria bloodshed
Russia and China veto UN resolution on Syria
Security Council vote comes after activists report the "bloodiest day" since the uprising began in Syria.
Russia and China vhave etoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government's deadly crackdown on protests for the second time.
Thirteen countries on Saturday voted for the resolution proposed by European and Arab nations to give strong backing to the Arab League's plan to end the crackdown.
But Russia and China made a repeat of their rare double veto carried out on October 5.
Moscow, a strong ally of the Syrian government, had earlier signaled it would veto any call for President Bashar al-Assad's removal.
Ahead of the vote, US President Barack Obama accused the Syrian government of murdering civilians in an "unspeakable assault" in Homs, and demanded that Assad step down.
"Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately," Obama said in a statement.
The diplomatic developments come as activists said the Syrian army has carried out an assault on Homs’ neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh on Friday night and continued overnight.
The Local Co-ordination Committees activists network said that more than 500 people were injured after the army used tanks, mortars and machine guns in the assault on the opposition stronghold in the central city.
Al Jazeera's Mysa Khalaf, reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, said sources in Syria told her the bombardment of the area started after the opposition Free Syrian Army, a group of army defectors, attacked Syrian army checkpoints and killed about 10 soldiers.
"I've been told that the main public hospital is completely overwhelmed and people have set up makeshift clinics in mosques. They are running low on supplies of blood," she said. "Several buildings have been destroyed."
The Syrian government denied the assault, saying the reports were part of a 'hysterical campaign' of incitement by armed groups against Syria.
The government said the recent reports of violence were meant to sway the UN Security Council vote.
Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, had said on Saturday that if a resolution is put to a vote without taking Moscow's opinion into account, it will only lead to "another scandal" at the Security Council.
Lavrov said Moscow had objections to what he termed "the imposition of the terms and conditions of the dialogue, which must be started without prejudging the results".
He also said that "measures must be taken to influence not only the government ... but also the armed groups, because unless you do it both ways, you are taking sides in a civil war".
Moscow has been a strategic ally of Syria through its decades under Assad dynastic rule and a major arms supplier to Damascus, and so bristles at outsiders trying to dictate internal political change in Damascus.
Rafeeq Abdel Salaam, Tunisia's foreign minister, announced on Saturday that his government started the procedure for expelling the Syrian ambassador from Tunis.
Earlier on Saturday, British police used batons and riot shields to hold back protesters trying to storm the Syrian embassy in London for the second time in one day.
Police brought in sandbags and riot gear to regain control of the surging crowd, which lobbed objects at the embassy, situated near Buckingham Palace.
Demonstrators angry with Assad stormed five Syrian embassies in Europe and the Middle East, including in Cairo.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Homs, activist Hadi al-Abdallah said government forces were targeting the neighbourhoods of Bab Tadmour, Bab Dreib, and Karm el-Shami simultaneously, as the military campaign in Khaldiyeh intensified.
Syrian government forces launched a mortar and rocket assault on the country’s third-largest city Friday night that activists said killed more than 200 people, intensifying pressure on the U.N. Security Council as it prepares to vote on a measure aimed at ending a bloody government crackdown.
If the death toll is confirmed, the military assault on Homs would be the single deadliest attack of the 10-month-old uprising that has devastated Syria.
Military forces began to fire shells and rockets on the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh, a hotbed of protest, in the late evening, said activist Omar Shakir, speaking by telephone from the city. He said he heard hundreds of missiles strike the area.
The assault then spread to the Baba Amr and Bab al-Sebaa neighborhoods, with buildings collapsing on top of wailing residents. He estimated that at least 220 people were dead and more than 700 injured.
It was not possible, he said, to take the injured to hospitals because roads were blocked by security forces. Armed pro-government gangs had taken injured and dead people from the al-Amal hospital near Khaldiyeh, apparently to remove evidence of the offensive, he said.
People were being treated in makeshift field hospitals, he said, but he feared that many with head and chest injuries would die.
"There has been non-stop bombardment in Bab Amr [neighbourhood of Homs] ... They've been bombarding Bab Amr and Khaldiyeh non-stop with mortar bombs and tank shells ... it's just random bombarding on rooftops," Danny Abdul Dayem, an activist, told Al Jazeera early on Saturday.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 soldiers were killed in clashes with opposition fighters and that five army defectors had lost their lives.
The group cited witnesses saying 217 people had been killed in Homs, 138 of them in Khaldiyeh.
The opposition Syrian National Council decried Saturday's violence as a "horrific massacre".
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration has closed the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and pulled all American diplomats out of Syria.
Officials say Ambassador Robert Ford and other diplomats left Syria on Monday. It's the most dramatic U.S. move so far after 11 months of a violent crackdown on dissent by President Bashar Assad's regime.
The State Department warned last month it would close the embassy unless Assad's government stepped up its protection. It cited concerns about the safety of personnel and recent car bombs.
The U.N. says Assad's crackdown has killed more than 5,400 people since March. The revolt began with mostly peaceful protests, but armed rebels are now increasingly fighting the regime.
The Obama administration has long demanded that Assad step down. Officials insist his regime's demise is inevitable.
6 February 2012 Last updated at 09:17 ET
Syria crisis: Army steps up Homs shelling BBC
Heavy artillery fire has been rocking Homs, as Syrian troops step up an assault on the restive city.
A BBC correspondent there describes almost constant blasts, in the fiercest attack in the 11-month uprising.
US President Barack Obama said it was important to resolve the conflict without outside military intervention.
Meanwhile, Russia and China defended their veto of a UN draft resolution criticising Syria - a move that angered opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
Later the US State Department said it had closed its embassy in Damascus and pulled out all remaining staff because of security concerns.
Washington had warned in January that it would close the embassy if the government did not step up security.
Homs, one of the main centres of resistance to Mr Assad's rule, has been under attack from government forces for several days.
Shelling resumed shortly after daybreak on Monday, says BBC's Paul Wood who has managed to get into the city.
Eyewitness Danny Abdul Dayem told the BBC the army was using rockets for the first time, with more than 300 falling on his locality since dawn.
"It's not safe at all, a rocket could land in this house right now," he said.
Some rebels fighters have been firing automatic weapons in return, in what our correspondent calls a futile gesture.
The rebels claim that the shelling has hit a field hospital in the Baba Amr district, causing casualties. However, our correspondent says this is impossible to verify.
The facility is treating dozens of people wounded in previous assaults on Homs.
Mr Dayem said only one field hospital with four doctors was still operating in the city, and it was virtually impossible to get additional medication without being shot.
Another anti-government campaigner told the BBC the government was also using helicopters and tanks in the assault.
Activists say at least 15 people have been killed so far on Monday.
Syria protesters hurl rocks at China embassy in Libya
TRIPOLI | Mon Feb 6, 2012 Reuters
TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Syrian and Libyan demonstrators hurled rocks, eggs and tomatoes at the Chinese embassy in Tripoli on Monday, after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution backing an Arab plan urging Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to give up power.
Armed men, who said they were from the Libyan government's Supreme Security Committee, guarded the embassy from about 50 protesters who waved Syrian opposition flags and had managed to break windows and spray graffiti on the walls
Syria: 'Dozens killed' in renewed Homs shelling, infants among those killed
The Syrian city of Homs has come under renewed bombardment for the fifth day running with troops moving closer to opposition controlled areas.
Activists say more than 40 people have died as a result of the new shelling, but this is difficult to verify.
The attacks come a day after President Bashar al-Assad promised the Russian foreign minister in Damascus that he would end violence and start dialogue.
Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution last week.
The BBC's Paul Wood, who is now on the outskirts of Homs with rebel fighters, says that his contacts inside the city describe the impacts as falling constantly - and it it too dangerous for them to go out and investigate the number of dead and injured.
A resident of the Baba Amr area of Homs, Omar, told the BBC that the rocket and mortar attacks were indiscriminate.
"Every house here in Baba Amr is a target," he said. "You have to be lucky to survive. You have to be lucky to stay alive.
"I think five or 10 minutes ago rockets landed in the house next to mine. A little baby... her head exploded because of the pressure of the rockets."
18 premature babies died after hospital electricity was cut and their incubators failed.
Nineteen people from three families in Homs were killed by pro-government thugs who burst into their houses and slaughtered them, reports say.
Baba Amr is one of several quarters in Homs where defiance to the government has been entrenched for months, and rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army have been operating there.
Activist groups said it and other districts came under heavy shellfire from government forces early in the morning.
The government has said the drive over Homs will continue until all opposition is eliminated.
The fate of the city will be a litmus test for the statements made after the Russian foreign minister's talks with President Assad, pledging commitment to ending the violence and entering dialogue.
On Tuesday, Gulf Arab states moved to expel Syrian ambassadors.
By the CNN Wire Staff updated 1:05 PM EST, Sun February 12, 2012
(CNN) -- Syrian government forces are using detained civilians as human shields, placing them on tanks in the besieged city of Homs to prevent the opposition Free Syrian Army from fighting back, an opposition activist said.
The latest tactic came as shelling rained on city's Baba Amr neighborhood once again Sunday, residents say, marking at least the eighth straight day President Bashar al-Assad's troops have pummeled Homs in an attempt to wipe out the opposition.
"My house is dancing. I am almost dead because of the siege," said the opposition activist, named Omar.
At least 23 people were killed Sunday, including a woman and two children, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria LCC. The death toll included nine people in Daraa, five in Homs, four in Idlib, two in Hama, two in Damascus subrurbs, and one in Damascus, the group said.
Three civilians were killed in Sunday's shelling on Baba Amr, according the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group. A fourth civilian was killed by gunfire near the town of Bab Houweid, the group said.
While residents in Homs wonder whether their house will be the next attacked, Arab League members gathered in Cairo on Sunday to discuss its next steps on Syria.
Nabil el-Araby, the league's secretary general, suggested that the United Nations deploy a joint force of U.N. and Arab League military experts on the ground as an observatory mission, a league official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak to the media.
Abdel Baset Sida, a senior official from the Syrian National Council who was at the Arab League meeting, said his group had discussed several options with el-Araby , including the possibility of a joint U.N.-Arab League mission.
Russia has accepted the Arab League proposal, according to a foreign minister of one of the Arab States taking part in the league meeting. Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution aimed at halting the violence, drawing anger from many world leaders.
The Arab League will impose unprecedented sanctions on Syria, according to the foreign minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was directly involved in ongoing discussions.
Lt. Gen. Mohammad Ahmad al-Dabi, of Sudan, resigned as head of the league's monitoring mission in Syria, the Arab League official said. The mission was suspended late last month amid increasing violence in the country.
"The Syrian Leadership has chosen chaos," Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Sunday. "It is killing its people and destroying the nation only to maintain its authority. What is happening in Syria leaves no doubt that it is not ethnic or sectarian war or urban warfare. It is a campaign of mass cleansing to punish the Syrian people and enforce the regime's authority without any humanitarian or ethical regards."
Syria, which routinely blames the violence on "armed terrorist groups," said Sunday on state-run news agency SANA that "martyrs" of two terrorist attacks in Aleppo were buried.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri weighed in on the conflict as well, in a new video posted online Saturday, calling al-Assad "the butcher son of a butcher" and praising the Syrian people for waging "jihad."
"Oh our brothers in Syria, do not rely on the West or the Arab leaders or Turkey. Do not rely on the Arab League because you cannot give what you do not have. Only rely on God ... All of these parties do not want Syria to be a free, Muslim, stable, strong nation against Israel, but instead weak and divided from its tradition, and they want Syria to recognize Israel and engage in international injustice."
He called on the fighters to insist on a "government that governs with Islam" and is free of corruption. "I call on all free Muslims to dedicate themselves to Syria with prayers, money, knowledge," he said. And Zawahiri complained that Syria "protects Israel" and joins the United States in a "fight against Islam."
It was not known exactly when Zawahiri taped the message.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI called for peace.
"I renew a pressing appeal to put an end to violence and bloodshed," the pope said at St. Peter's Square. He called on "everyone, and above all the political authorities in Syria, to favor the paths of dialogue, reconciliation and commitment to peace. It's urgent to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the various components of the nation, as well as the wishes of the international community concerned about the welfare of the entire region, the entire society and the region."
The international community has repeatedly failed to convince al-Assad's regime to stop the massacre, so it's unclear what effect the Arab League talks could have.
But U.N. diplomats are mulling another draft resolution -- this one brought forth by Saudi Arabia -- and are expected to convene Monday.
The Saudi draft resolution will be submitted to the U.N. General Assembly, where vetoes are not allowed, but resolutions are not legally binding. Russia and China have vetoed previous U.N. Security Council attempts at passing a resolution condemning the Syrian regime.
The latest, three-page draft "strongly condemns" the violations of human rights by Syrian authorities. It cites "the use of force against civilians, arbitrary executions, killing and persecution of protesters, human rights defenders and journalists, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, interference with access to medical treatment, torture, sexual violence and ill-treatment, including against children."
The text was provided to CNN by a diplomatic source on the condition that it not be posted in full because it could be amended.
At least 687 people, including 59 children, died in the past week, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported late Saturday. About two-thirds of those deaths occurred in Homs, said the LCC, an opposition activist group.
The capital city of Damascus has not seen the level of bloodshed other cities have endured in the 11-month Syrian uprising, but the reported killing a Syrian general there could indicate the resistance is spreading to the seats of power.
An "armed terrorist group" assassinated Brig. Gen. Issa al-Kholi, a military physician who was the director of Hamish Hospital, in front of his Damascus house Saturday morning, SANA reported. Three gunmen fatally shot him, the media outlet said.
Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said al-Kholi is from a powerful Alawite military family and is a relative of Mohammed al-Kholi, the former head of air force intelligence under Hafez al-Assad, President Bashar al-Assad's father and predecessor who ruled Syria for three decades.
The al-Assad family is Alawite, a minority in Sunni-dominated Syria that has a major presence in the military and government.
While al-Kholi was not likely a senior officer or affiliated with a key regime unit, his assassination is believed to be the first of a higher-ranking Syrian officer in the capital, said Jeffrey White, a defense analyst at the institute.
Free Syrian Army Lt. Col. Mohamed Hamado said al-Kholi is "definitely close to Bashar's inner circle" and that his family has been close to both Bashar al-Assad and his father. The Free Syrian Army is the anti-regime resistance group led by military defectors.
The deputy head of the Free Syrian Army said the killing could have been carried out by the regime itself.
The al-Assad regime "is now assassinating and targeting anyone they suspect of joining the revolution or thinking of defecting. That may have been the case with General al-Kholi," Col. Malek Al Kurdi said.
Al Kurdi claims the regime "assassinated" the deputy head of the armed forces, Gen. Bassam Najm el-Din Antakiali, in September, even though state media reported that he died of an "acute heart attack."
Five people in Turkey have been detained in the probe into the disappearance of a Syrian military defector who supported the opposition, Turkey's semi-official Anatolian Agency reported Sunday.
Hussein al Harmoush announced last year he would help lead the movement from exile in Turkey. He then disappeared one morning when he stepped out of the makeshift refugee camp he and his family were living in in the Turkish border town of Altinozu.
After going missing for more than two weeks, Harmoush suddenly resurfaced in a "confession" aired on Syrian state TV. In the September 15 broadcast, Harmoush recanted his support for the opposition. His whereabouts now are unknown.
Anatolian Agency said a second person, Mustafa Kassum, disappeared as well. The five suspects have been charged with "political espionage and eliminating one's freedom," the report said.
There was no immediate mention of the report on Syria's news agency SANA.
Al-Assad's regime has insisted its crackdown is aimed at armed gangs and foreign terrorists bent on destabilizing the regime.
But virtually all reports from within the country indicate al-Assad's forces are slaughtering protesters and other civilians en masse. Opposition activists in Homs describe relentless bomb explosions from Syrian forces, wounded people bleeding to death in the streets because they can't get medical attention and snipers picking off civilians running for cover.
U.N. officials estimate 6,000 people have died since protests seeking al-Assad's ouster began nearly a year ago. The LCC says the toll has far exceeded 7,000.
[Feb. 15 satellite image shows a pipeline fire in Homs, Syria. The pipeline, which runs through the rebel-held neighborhood of Baba Amr, in Homs, had been shelled by regime troops for the previous 12 days, according to two activist groups.]
A little more information on what the Syrian regime is using on Homs.
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor Staff writer / February 23, 2012
Monitor librarian Leigh Montgomery and the folks at SIPRI (they have forgotten more about the world's arsenals than you will ever know) helped me track down a little more information about what the Syrian regime is using on Homs, and possibly other cities.
I'd thought the firing platform for these beast-sized mortars -- with 75 pounds of explosives and a range of up to 12 miles -- was the Russian-made Tulip, basically a tank designed to deal death from a distance. But while it's possible that Tulips have been delivered by Russia to Syria in the past year, there's no evidence of that, and past SIPRI research shows no signs they've ever been delivered to the country. (Russia is Syria's major arms supplier, and the value of its shipments increased by 58 percent last year.)
But what SIPRI confirms is in Syria's arsenal is the Russian M240 for firing these mortars. While not as sophisticated as the Tulip, the M240 – towed into position by a heavy truck – still delivers accurate fire. It has been frequently used by Syria, from the 1973 war with Israel to the punitive expedition Assad's father, Hafez, launched on his own city of Hama in 1982, which left more than 10,000 residents dead.
In Iraq, I've been close to incoming mortar fire (far smaller) and it's terrifying. Raining mortars down on a densely populated area is beyond criminal.
Below is a video of US troops in Afghanistan firing smaller mortars in the Korengal Valley. Imagine if that ridge was filled with apartment blocks and the shells were at least twice the size, and you have a good picture of what's been happening in Homs.