Arabs, Russia meeting on Syria: Agreement on disagreement
Arab and Russian foreign ministers met in Cairo on Saturday over Syria, amid splits over how to move forward to resolve a crisis that has left thousands dead in a year.
The meetings come as the West and the Arab world pile pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's regime to end a year-old uprising spiralling into all-out civil war.
Beijing and Moscow have used their veto powers as permanent members of the UN Security Council to block resolutions condemning the crackdown, because they singled out Assad for blame.
"Today, the most urgent is to end all violence irrespective of where it came from," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Arab counterparts.
He said both the government and the armed groups had to vacate Syrian cities and towns.
But Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, Qatar's foreign minister, said the killings of civilians in Syria amounted to "genocide" and that a ceasefire was "not enough."
"The Syrian regime is committing systematic genocide while we talk of a ceasefire," Sheikh Hamad said.
"After all the killing, we cannot just talk of a ceasefire," he said, demanding "accountability" for those responsible for the violence.
Sheikh Hamad said "the time has come to apply the proposal to send Arab and international troops to Syria," while calling for the recognition of the Syrian National Council as the Syrian people's "legitimate representative."
"When we went to the Security Council, we did not get a resolution because of the Russian-Chinese veto, which sent a wrong message to the Syrian regime," he said, warning that "our patience and the patience of the world has run out."
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the UN veto allowed the "brutality" to continue.
The stand of "the countries that thwarted the UN Security Council resolution and voted against the resolution of the General Assembly on Syria gave the Syrian regime a licence to extend its brutal practices against the Syrian people, without compassion or mercy," he said.
Lavrov insisted his country is "not protecting any regime; we are protecting international law."
The Russian foreign minister arrived on Friday and held talks individually with some of the Arab ministers.
He also met the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, and made clear that Moscow opposed "crude interference" from outside in Syrian internal affairs, Russia's foreign ministry said.
"A particular emphasis was placed on the inadmissibility of trampling on international legal norms, including through crude interference in Syria's internal affairs," the foreign ministry said after a meeting earlier between Lavrov and Annan in Cairo.
Annan went on Syria on Saturday where he met Assad, who told him he would back an "sincere" peace bid, while arguing that dialogue would fail if "terrorist groups" remain.
"Syria is ready to bring success to any honest bid to find a solution," the official SANA news agency quoted Assad as saying.
But the Syrian leader added: "No dialogue or political process can succeed as long as there are terrorist groups that are working to sow chaos and destabilise the country by attacking civilians and soldiers."
The pro-democracy movement started off peacefully gradually became militant in reaction to the lethal crackdown.
The United Nations says that well over 7,500 people have died in the crackdown on dissent that has seen an intensive assault by government forces on protest cities such as Homs and Idlib.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League in November.
Russia said on Friday it opposed an "unbalanced" Washington-backed UN draft resolution on Syria because it called on the government only to end violence but did not mention the rebels.
World powers have been under pressure from Moscow to tone down their condemnation of Assad's regime.