Russians not leaving Syria, says embassy

Wed, Jan 23, 2013, 00:00

The Russian embassy in Damascus has denied that Russian citizens are being evacuated from Syria.

The denial came after two aircraft landed at Beirut’s airport to repatriate 100-150 Russians who had left Syria by road. “These are people whose homes have been destroyed and who live in conflict ‘hotbeds’,” said an embassy source, adding that no embassy personnel would depart.

An estimated 30,000 Russians are in Syria, most of them wives of Syrians; 8,000 are registered with the embassy. The foreign ministry has said no mass evacuation has been planned.

Clashes between the army and rebels occurred around the capital, including along the route to the international airport and in the town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border where Kurdish fighters have come under attack from fundamentalist jihadis allegedly backed by Ankara.

Infiltration by rebels

Meanwhile, in an attempt to shore up efforts to resist the rebellion, the al-Assad regime has consolidated existing popular committees and local civilian guards into the National Defence Army to protect pro-regime areas from attack and infiltration by rebels.

The new force includes men and women and members of all sects and has been deployed initially in Homs, where 130 soldiers and rebels have been killed in fighting over the past three days.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, speaking in the Saudi capital Riyadh, said United Nations and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has been unable to end the bloodshed in Syria.

“All contacts made by Brahimi have . . . not yielded a glimmer of hope of an end to this crisis,” said Mr Arabi. He called on the UN to impose a ceasefire, provide an international monitoring force and ensure its implementation.

Mr Brahimi is consulting UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and other officials before briefing the Security Council on his mission.

External powers

Mr Ban and Mr Brahimi have expressed “anguish” over the killing and destruction wrought by both sides armed by external powers.

They have also criticised the international community for failing to agree on a policy that could bring an end to the conflict and provide for a political transition to a new system of governance. Russia insists that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad must be part of a transition, but the US, Britain and France demand he step down.

Moscow has provided diplomatic and military support for the government and, along with China, has vetoed three assembly resolutions proposing the imposition of sanctions on Syria.