Russia says Syria ceasefire holding despite violations

AFP, Friday 20 Apr 2012

Russia's Foreign Minister praises a ceasefire in Syria despite the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country, warning that the other alternative would be 'retreating to civil war'

Members of the Druze community hold Syrian flags during a rally marking Syria's Independence Day in the Druze village of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights April 17, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

Russia said Friday a ceasefire was generally holding in Syria despite some violations and should be seen as an achievement that was saving the country from a broader civil war.

"Despite the existing violations and provocations, the ceasefire is holding overall. This is a great achievement whose loss could lead to a dangerous retreat to a new wave of violence," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Russia's comments came one day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the UN Security Council to brand Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a threat to peace and authorise tough new international measures.

The Russian foreign ministry said Syria was currently facing a choice of either "moving toward a peaceful national dialogue or retreating to civil war."

"And every participant of the domestic conflict must make their choice," Russia said in comments directed at both Assad and the armed opposition.

The foreign ministry added that it also intended to soon host members of the main Syrian National Council opposition group in hopes of establishing dialogue in the 13-month conflict.

Russia this week hosted one domestic opposition group whose members are not a part of the Syrian National Council and now intends to host other groups in the coming days in a bid to show its constructive approach.

Western and Arab states have condemned Russia for vetoing two previous UN Security Council resolutions condemning Assad for violence that a London-based monitor says has claimed more than 11,100 lives.

Moscow has responded by being more critical of Assad in recent weeks but it also accused foreign powers of openly backing the armed opposition while doing little to support talks.

The foreign ministry said it was "satisfied" by Syria's decision Thursday to sign a deal on a protocol for observers monitoring the ceasefire under a six-point plan agreed with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

But it added that what mattered most was the question of how "constructive the Syrian government and opposition groups are toward implementing Annan's plan."

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