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Monday, February 20, 2012

Syria conflict turning into a standoff between Russia, China, Iran vs. Washington, Brussels, Israel

Russia, China and Iran back Assad

(Reuters) --

Russia, China and Iran showed support for Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, on Monday, just days before an international meeting which is likely to put more pressure on him to step down amid an increasingly bloody uprising.

Mr Assad met a senior Russian politician in Damascus, who reiterated Moscow’s support for his reform programme and spoke out against any foreign intervention in the conflict, Russian and Syrian news agencies reported.

China accused western countries of stirring up civil war in Syria, and two Iranian warships docked at a Syrian naval base, underscoring rising international tensions over the near year-long crisis.

The ships, which docked at the port of Tartous on Saturday, were said to be providing training for Syrian naval forces, Iranian state TV reported.

With Iran already at odds with the US, Europe and Israel over its nuclear programme, the deployment was likely to add to western concerns that the Syria crisis could boil over into a regional conflict if it is not resolved soon.

Asked about the Iranian move at a briefing in Jerusalem, Dan Meridor, Israeli deputy prime minister, said Mr Assad was receiving generous support from Iran and the Hizbollah militant group, and that Russia and China had given him “a licence to kill”.

Meanwhile, Syria’s forces pressed on with their crackdown on the anti-Assad uprising, with opposition activists reporting five people killed in renewed shelling of an opposition-held district of Homs, and troops and militiamen blockading Hama. Both cities have been in the forefront of the revolt.

The crisis is entering an important week, with western and Arab powers due to meet at a conference in Tunisia on Friday to press Mr Assad to give up power, while he forges ahead with plans for a referendum on Sunday for a new constitution.

The referendum, which would lead to multi-party elections within 90 days, is part of what Mr Assad describes as a reform programme to address demands for more democracy.

The west and Syrian opposition figures have dismissed the plan as a joke, saying it is impossible to have a valid election amid the continuing repression.

Alexei Pushkov, head of the international affairs committee of Russia’s lower house of parliament, met Mr Assad in Damascus on Monday and affirmed Russia’s support for the plan. Moscow is Syria’s main arms supplier.

Mr Pushkov also stressed the need “to continue working for a political solution to the crisis based on dialogue between all concerned parties, without foreign intervention”, Sana, the state news agency, said.

Mr Assad, who shows no inclination to relinquish power, told Mr Pushkov Syria was being targeted by armed terrorist groups supported by foreign elements aiming to destabilise the country.

China, which sent an envoy to Damascus this weekend, also backs Mr Assad’s plan for a political solution and has appealed to government and opposition alike to halt the violence.

China’s Communist party newspaper, the People’s Daily, took the west to task in a commentary, saying: “If western countries continue to fully support Syria’s opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to thus avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention.”...MORE...LINK

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