Thousands of Syrians waving Russian flags cheered Russia's foreign minister as he arrived in Damascus Tuesday for talks with embattled President Bashar Assad on the country's escalating violence.
Russian news agency RIA reported that Lavrov began the talks by saying Moscow wants Arab peoples to live in peace and the Syrian leader is aware of his responsibility.
"Every leader of every country must be aware of his share of responsibility. You are aware of yours," state-run RIA quoted Lavrov as saying at the meeting with Assad in Damascus.
The Russian FM said "it is in our interests for Arab peoples to live in peace and agreement," RIA reported.
Lavrov's visit comes days after Syrian allies Russia and China vetoed a Western- and Arab-backed resolution at the United Nations that would have condemned the Assad regime's crackdown on dissent and calling on him to transfer some of his powers to his deputy. The Syrian government had rejected the Arab plan as intervention in Syria's internal affairs.
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Regime forces, meanwhile, stepped up an assault on the flashpoint city of Homs, using tanks and machine guns in a push to recover rebel-held districts.
Live footage from the capital showed Lavrov's convoy snaking its way along the Mazzeh boulevard among a sea of Assad supporters who turned up to express gratitude for Moscow's supportive stance. The foreign minister and Russia's foreign intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov were headed to the presidential palace to meet with Assad.
Thousands of Syrians welcome Lavrov
"Thank you Russia and China" read one banner that had the photos of both Assad and the Russian president. Many stood under rain carrying Syrian flags as well as the red, blue and white Russian banner and balloons.
Assad and Lavrov. Good friends? (Photo: Reuters)
The Russian Foreign Ministry stated that Lavrov is visiting Damascus in order to discuss "the quick implementations of democratic reforms in Syria."
Over 5,400 dead
More than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March, the UN said early last month. Hundreds more are believe to have been killed since then, but the UN says the chaos in the country has made it impossible to cross-check the figures.
Lavrov's convoy in Damascus (Photo: EPA)
Syria has blocked access to trouble spots and prevented independent reporting, making it nearly impossible to verify accounts from either side. The Assad regime says terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country are behind the uprising, not people seeking to transform the authoritarian regime.
On Monday, troops shelled a makeshift medical clinic and residential areas, killing nearly 70 people, activists said. More than a dozen others were reported killed elsewhere.
The escalating violence prompted the United States to close its embassy in Syria while Britain recalled its ambassador to Damascus in a clear message that Western powers see no point in engaging with Assad and now will seek to bolster Syria's opposition.
"This is a doomed regime as well as a murdering regime," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers Monday. "There is no way it can recover its credibility internationally."
President Barack Obama said the Syrian leader's departure is only a matter of time.
Associated Press contributed to this report
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