Assad and Lavrov 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on Saturday that international support for Syrian rebels would lead to "more blood" and the government could not be expected to willingly give in to its opponents. Lavrov's comments came as military helicopters pounded a rebel-held district of Aleppo and armored units positioned themselves for an onslaught that could determine the fate of Syria's biggest city, opposition sources said.
Lavrov, whose country has vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions intended to increase pressure on Syria's government to end 16 months of violence, said Western and Arab nations should exert more influence on rebels to stop fighting.
He said "tragedy" could be imminent in the Syrian city of Aleppo, but indicated rebels would be at least partly to blame.
"Pressure must be put on everyone," Lavrov said at a joint news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba after talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, President Vladimir Putin's summer base.
"Unfortunately, our Western partners prefer to do something a bit different and essentially, along with some countries neighboring Syria, encourage, support and direct the armed fight against the regime," he said. "The price of all this is still more blood."
In the wake of the UN Security Council vetoes by Russia and China, the United States has said it will seek ways to tackle the crisis outside the UN
Lavrov said Russia was calling on the government to "take the first steps" but that the rebels should not take advantage of any such government actions by occupying cities and towns.
"The city of Aleppo is occupied by the armed opposition and the next tragedy is brewing there, as I understand it," he said.
"Well-armed opposition groups are occupying cities, intending to create some sort of buffer zones for a transitional government. How can one expect that the Syrian government will say, 'Yes, go ahead, overthrow me,'" he said.
"This is unrealistic - not because we are holding onto the regime but because it just doesn't work," he said.
The battle for the Aleppo, a city of 2.5 million people, is seen as a crucial test for a government that has committed major military resources to retaining control of its two main power centers, Aleppo and the capital Damascus, in the face of a growing insurgency.
While neither side has managed to gain the upper hand, the outcome of the uprising is being watched anxiously in the region and beyond, amid fears that sectarian unrest could spread to volatile neighboring countries.
Military experts believe that while Assad's more powerful military will overcome the rebels in Aleppo and other major cities, but risk loss of control in the countryside because the loyalty of large sections of the army is in doubt.
Three rebel fighters were killed in clashes between midnight and dawn on Saturday in Aleppo, the Observatory said. It said 160 people were reported killed in Syria on Friday, adding to an overall death toll of around 18,000 since the uprising began.