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February 1, 2023

Russian FM: Assad agrees to talks, ‘fully commits’ to end violence

Pro-government crowds gave the Russian foreign minister a hero’s welcome in the capital Damascus, amid rising violence in the country.

DAMASCUS – Syria’s President Assad has agreed to talks with the opposition, will follow Arab League’s roadmap increasing the number of observers in the country, including the most hostile areas in Syria, Russia Today news channel informs.

This follows talks with the Russian delegation headed by Foregin Minister Sergey Lavrov, who arrived in Damascus on Tuesday. Moscow will coordinate talks between Assad’s government and the opposition.

Russia will go on working with various Syrian opposition groups in order to prevent further civilian deaths, said Lavrov. The Minister called on other countries to urge the opposition for talks.

Syria is also to call a referendum to draw up a new constitution. The brand new constitution will deprive the ruling political party of its monopoly. The date of the referendum will be announced shortly.

President Assad stands firm in his resolve to stop violence in his country, wherever it should come from, said Lavrov. The minister added the parties reaffirmed their readiness to use the Arab League’s initiative to find “a swift way out of the crisis.”

The League can decide now if they wish to boost the number of observers in Syria, but Damascus is definitely giving the green light to such a move. Moscow has called on the Arab League to preserve and expand its observing mission, dubbing it a crucial stabilizing factor for Syria.

The visit came amid international anger over Russia and China’s veto of what they saw as a “premature” UN Security Council vote. The UK and US simultaneously withdrew their ambassadors to Damascus Monday, with the UK Foreign Secretary calling President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime “murderous and doomed.” Italy’s Foreign Ministry has allegedly recalled its ambassador from Syria on Tuesday, reports Al Arabia.  Belgium also has recalled its envoy. The Russian FM dubbed the resolution draft text “one-sided” and international reaction to the veto “hysterical”. According to the BBC, Thousands waved Syrian and Russian flags as Mr Lavrov’s convoy moved through Damascus. He later began talks with President Bashar al-Assad. Mr Lavrov’s visit comes as government forces continue a fierce assault on the rebel stronghold of Homs. Hundreds are reported to have died since the shelling of the city began on Friday. At least 95 people were killed on Monday alone, activists say.

The BBC’s Paul Wood – one of the only foreign reporters in Homs – says the Syrian army started firing artillery at about 06:00 local time on Tuesday. He says residents fear troops are planning to launch a ground assault. Army tanks are moving closer to the city centre, a resident told the BBC.

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