Turkey Urges Syria Aid Corridors as Russia Resists UN Step

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
A file photo shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad standing next to a portrait of his late father Hafez al-Assad in Damascus. Photographer: Louai Bashara/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey called for an “immediate opening” of humanitarian aid corridors in Syria as Russia rebuffed efforts to revive a United Nations Security Council condemnation of President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian security forces killed 21 people across the country today, including 13 from two families in the Baba Amr area of the central city of Homs, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria said on its website. The conflict has claimed more than 7,500 lives, according to UN estimates.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Syrian government must “really be pressured” to end the violent repression of protests. Syria’s army is “butchering its own people, pointing its guns at the masses,” Erdogan told members of his governing Justice and Development Party in the Ankara parliament today.

In Washington, Marine Corps General James Mattis, head of the U.S. Central Command, said Assad, drawing support from neighboring Iran, will remain in power “for some time.” The conflict “will get worse before it gets better,” Mattis said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The U.S. is drafting a new Security Council resolution after Russia and China blocked measures in October and February supporting an Arab League-drafted transition plan. Russia opposes the latest U.S. proposal because it’s a “slightly modified version” of the draft vetoed last month, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in a posting on his Twitter account.

Russia Unswayed

Russia won’t revise its position after its March 4 presidential election, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website today. Outside efforts to impose a solution that back one side in the conflict are “unacceptable,” according to the ministry statement.

“Reaching a lasting Syrian solution is possible only on the basis of wide-ranging, national dialogue,” the ministry said.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told a panel of lawmakers today that he has spoken to Vladimir Putin since his presidential election victory and detected no sign of a shift on Syria.

A Chinese envoy, Li Huaqing, a former ambassador to Syria, arrived in Damascus today, Xinhua reported. On March 4, China issued a six-point statement in Syria calling itself a “friend of the Arab people” and urging an end to “all acts of violence, particularly violence against innocent civilians.”

Safe Havens

Diplomacy has failed to stop Assad’s military assault against civilians, U.S. Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday.

“The United States has a clear national security interest in stopping the violence in Syria and forcing Assad to leave power,” McCain said, urging the creation of civilian safe havens by using airstrikes against Syrian forces and air defenses.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner declined to back McCain’s call for military intervention. “Until there’s a clear direction as to what’s happening there, involving ourselves at this point in time would be premature,” Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, told reporters today after a closed conference of House Republicans.

Mattis said creating safe havens would require “a significant commitment” of military resources. Syria’s Russian-provided integrated air defense system of radar and missiles would make imposition of a no-fly zone “challenging” he said.

‘Experts in Repression’

Iran’s assistance to Assad’s regime includes monitoring and eavesdropping equipment and “experts in oppression,” Mattis said.

Mattis said in his prepared statement that Assad’s regime “is battling for its survival against a popular uprising, raising the prospect of civil war. The bravery of the Syrian people is laudable but the options to address the situation are extremely challenging.”

Mattis said “Syria is unraveling in disarray” and events there “will have strategic repercussions throughout the region.”

Syria has a “substantial chemical and biological weapons” capability, “a significant integrated air defense system, and thousands of shoulder-fired anti-air missiles,” he said.

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