Clinton and Russia air differences over Syria

Mon, Sep 10, 2012, 01:00

FIGHTING BETWEEN troops and rebels flared yesterday in Aleppo and southern districts of Damascus as differences between the US and Russia persisted on how to resolve the 18-month conflict in Syria. A water main ruptured because of fighting in the northern Bustan al-Basha district of Aleppo, flooding the streets and cutting the supply to adjacent areas.

Aleppo’s provincial governor, Mohammed Akkad, said rebels had sabotaged the water main, as well as two other pipes in another district, but rebels claimed military planes had bombed the main. Troops drove rebels from a military barracks in the nearby Hanano neighbourhood after a 20-hour battle.

The army also conducted house-to-house searches in the Damascus district of Tadamon and on the edges of the neighbouring Yarmouk township, home to 114,000 Palestinians and 850,000 Syrians.

State media reported on Saturday that four people had been killed by a bomb on a bus carrying soldiers and civilians in Homs province.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she would work with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on a UN Security Council resolution based on the transition plan agreed in Geneva at the end of June but said it would “only be effective if it includes consequences for non-compliance”.

Russia has repeatedly said there must also be consequences for the rebels as well as the regime if there is to be balance.

Mr Lavrov complained that US sanctions on Syria and Iran “are increasingly becoming extraterritorial . . . and are touching upon the interests of Russian business”, particularly banks. He said Moscow does not support sanctions, because “sanctions will not bring about anything”.

Mrs Clinton said if such differences with Russia cannot be resolved, the US “will work with like-minded states to support a Syrian opposition to hasten the day when Assad falls, and to prepare Syria for democratic future and help it get on its feet”.

After an informal meeting of foreign ministers near Paphos in Cyprus, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reiterated the demand that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad “should go”, said the EU would be imposing fresh sanctions on the ruling clan and pledged €50 million in aid for civilians caught up in the conflict, bringing the total to €200 million, half the total allocated.

She said the bloc must focus on the Syrian humanitarian crisis while encouraging the opposition to unite and focus on creating an “inclusive” alternative that reflects the entire society.

It could be too late for an “inclusive” successor regime, said French surgeon Jacques Bérès, who spent two weeks in Aleppo tending wounded in a rebel-held hospital. He said 60 per cent of his patients were fighters and half were foreign fundamentalists seeking to transform Syria into an Islamic state and impose Muslim Sharia law.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy charged with ending the conflict, flew to Cairo for talks with League chief Nabil al-Arabi before moving on to Damascus.