Lavrov Pushes for Reforms in Syria, Violence Rages

Russian Foreign Minister visits Assad, urges reforms. Assad claims to agree, but continues killing.

Elad Benari ,

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Senior Russian officials on Tuesday pushed for reforms in an emergency meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, The Associated Press reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov flew into Damascus on Tuesday, accompanied by his foreign security chief, to try to boost a plan that would keep Assad in power, the report said.

Lavrov’s visit to Syria comes several days after Russia and China vetoed an initiative in the United Nations Security Council to end the deadly violence in Syria and have Assad step down from power.

“It’s clear that efforts to stop the violence should be accompanied by the beginning of dialogue among the political forces,” AP quoted Lavrov as having said. “Today we received confirmation of the readiness of the president of Syria for this work.”

Tuesday's visit by Lavrov and intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov was evidence that Russia does not want to be seen as giving Assad a free hand to crush his opponents in the wake of the veto at the UN Security Council, AP reported.

The visit was also a sign that Moscow wanted to get a firsthand assessment of the situation on the ground in Syria, the report added.

Assad reportedly told Lavrov that Syria is determined to hold a national dialogue with the opposition and independent figures, saying his government was “ready to cooperate with any effort that boosts stability in Syria,” according to the Syrian state news agency SANA.

Even as the two met, however, the violence in Syria continued. Assad resumed on Tuesday large-scale bombing and killing of citizens, primarily in the city of Homs, a center of anti-government strength.

Dissidents have posted videos showing constant bombing of homes, and many streets have been turned into virtual morgues and field hospitals.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the escalating violence in Syria appalling and told President Bashar Assad’sgovernment that the Security Council's disagreement over a resolution condemning the bloodshed was not a license to escalate attacks.