Last updated: 29 November, 2011

Russia urges talks amid unrelenting Syria violence

Syrian forces pushed a deadly crackdown on dissent on Tuesday despite a damning UN report accusing them of crimes against humanity and as Russia called for a political dialogue to end the violence.

Two days after the Arab League hit Syria with crippling economic sanctions, regional power broker Saudi Arabia urged its citizens to leave the country.

Activists, meanwhile, said nine civilians, among them a child, died in fresh violence across Syria.

An eight-year-old girl was among five civilians killed in the flashpoint central city of Homs. She was struck by a stray bullet from a security checkpoint, the Britain-based Observatory said.

And three people were shot dead in Rankuss near Damascus, where at least 17 civilians have been killed since Sunday, it said.

The rights watchdog said another civilian was killed after gunmen believed to be mutinous soldiers attacked a car transporting members of the security forces, killing three.

The gunmen also abducted two members of the security forces in the attack near the town of Saraqeb in the northwestern Idlib province, the Britain-based Observatory said.

Troops also arrested 29 high school students in a raid in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the anti-regime dissent.

The latest killings came a day after the United States and European Union issued a joint statement for the “Syrian government to end violence immediately.”

But Russia, a traditional Damascus ally which has vetoed resolutions against Syria at the UN Security Council, said the time for ultimatums is over.

“Right now, the most important thing is to stop acting by means of ultimatums and try to move toward political dialogue,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Lavrov also found fault with Monday’s UN report accusing Assad’s regime of crimes against humanity and the torture of children, saying both sides in Syria were to blame for the violence.

“Armed people are treating civilians very severely,” Lavrov said. “But recently, more and more often, this concerns not so much the actions of the authorities, but of the armed groups that provoke disorder.”

The Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria said that Syrian security forces committed crimes against humanity after orders from the top of Assad’s regime.

The Human Rights Council created the commission in August to investigate human rights violations in Syria where the UN estimates that more than 3,500 people have been killed since mid-March.

The violence prompted Saudi Arabia to order its citizens out of Syria.

“Due to the security situation, Saudi Arabia urges its citizens to leave Syria and not travel there,” a statement from Riyadh’s foreign ministry said.

Syria blames “armed terrorists” for the violence, and on Monday Foreign Minister Walid Muallem slammed Arab countries for ignoring these claims.

“The Arabs don’t want to admit the presence in Syria of groups of armed terrorists who are committing these crimes, abductions and attacks on public places,” he said.

Focus: Syria trade ties pushed Iraq to oppose sanctions

Muallem’s remarks came a day after the Arab League hit Syria with sweeping sanctions over the regime’s failure to halt the bloodshed.

Muallem denounced the punitive measures as “economic war,” but said Syria was capable of weathering the effects of the sanctions.

Turkey, which has endorsed the Arab move against its neighbour, said on Tuesday it would look for alternative routes to bypass Syria, a transit route for Ankara’s trade with Middle Eastern countries.

“If conditions aggravate in Syria, we are planning to shift (road) transport to Iraq by opening new gates,” Transport Minister Binali Yildirim was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

Turkey is growing increasingly concerned about the Syrian regime’s ongoing crackdown on dissidents, fearing that an influx of refugees may end up on its border amid the continuing violence.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reiterated Turkish opposition to any military intervention in Syria but said Ankara was ready “for every scenario.”

“The steps to be taken (against Damascus) have been clarified” at a cabinet meeting this week, Davutoglu told a news conference.

“We will announce them after further consultations with the president and the prime minister,” he added.

But he also stressed: “Syria has no chance of surviving unless it makes peace with its own people.”