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Russia Seeks Daily Pause in Fighting as Syria Shells Cities

Russia called for a daily pause in violence in Syria to allow access for humanitarian aid, as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled cities in the center of the country.

The Russian Foreign Ministry joined the International Committee of the Red Cross in asking both sides to agree immediately to the daily cessation in hostilities, according to a statement posted on its website late yesterday. The Red Cross is seeking a two hour pause each day to allow access to food and medicines for those caught up in the violence.

The Red Cross “is hopeful that meetings like this will lead to concrete results,” the Geneva-based organization said on its website. “The decision on its call for a daily cessation in the fighting remains in the hands of the Syrian authorities and the Syrian opposition.”

Assad’s forces have intensified attacks against rebel strongholds this month to try and extinguish a yearlong uprising that has cost more than 8,000 lives. Government forces were struck by a series of explosions in Aleppo and Damascus over the weekend which left at least 30 dead, state media said. Fighting yesterday spread to a neighborhood of Damascus that houses a number of embassies and homes of security officers.

Syrian gunners continued the shelling of rebel areas today, killing at least 15 people in Homs, Hama and the capital Damascus, according to an e-mail from the opposition Local Co-Ordination Committees.

‘No Time to Lose’

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the international community needs to act quickly to stem the bloodshed.

“We have no time to waste, no time to lose,” Ban told reporters in the Indonesian city of Bogor today. “Just one minute, one hour delay will mean more and more people dead.”

Western countries on the United Nations Security Council are continuing to push for international action today following the blocking of two resolutions by permanent members Russia and China.

The council is set to adopt a statement backing its envoy, Kofi Annan, who is leading efforts to broker peace in Syria, according to Mark Lyall Grant, British ambassador and current president of the 15-member body. Russia is prepared to back action to support Annan’s mission, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today in Moscow.

‘Regime Change’

Last year’s Western military action in Libya, sanctioned by a UN resolution, left Russia and China with a “sour taste,” the Royal United Services Institute said in a report published yesterday.

“The manner in which the initial Security Council resolution was contorted out of all recognition from the protection of civilians to, in effect, outright regime change” in Libya has made the two countries more willing to use UN vetoes to block action on Syria, according to the London-based institute’s report.

Different UN statements, one drafted by France and one by Russia, are circulating among diplomats at the organization’s headquarters in New York. Any statement would require unanimity and would represent the strongest world response to the crisis so far.

Representatives of Syria’s opposition are prepared to hold talks in Moscow and are negotiating the timing of a possible meeting with Russian embassies in Paris and Damascus, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified Foreign Ministry official.

International Pressure

Russia, which sells weapons to Syria, is facing growing international pressure to sever ties with a Soviet-era ally. Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union is a naval maintenance and supply center in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, in a public letter to opposition groups, said elements in Syria’s armed opposition have carried out kidnappings and tortured members of Assad’s security forces and pro-government militias, called shabeeha, as well as government supporters.

The New York-based group also said it has also received reports of executions by armed opposition groups of security force members and civilians.

“The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group’s Middle East director. “Opposition leaders should make it clear to their followers that they must not torture, kidnap, or execute under any circumstances.”

In a message to the UN Security Council, Syria’s Foreign Ministry said “regional and international sides” were backing “terrorists” in the country with money and weapons, the state-run SANA news agency reported yesterday.

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