Syrian army fighting ‘militants, ‘provocateurs’ says Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on Wednesday against attempts to define “provocateurs” and “militants” fighting against the government in Syria as peaceful protesters.

“The main thing is to avoid painting the picture that Syrian security forces, the armed forces are acting solely against peaceful demonstrators,” Lavrov told journalists on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

“There are very many armed provocateurs [among the Syrian protesters],” he said, adding “I think no state would tolerate direct attempts at rebellion.”

Syrian security forces have been trying to “free” residential locations seized by a “large group of armed militants,” he said.

Syrian rights organizations have estimated that some 1,300 people have been killed and more than 10,000 arrested in Syria since protests demanding the end of President Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian rule broke out in the country in mid-March. Foreign journalists are banned from entering the country which makes it difficult to verify the figures.

Syria’s official reports say some 300 security and military officers have lost their lives in clashes with protesters, including at least 120 of them reportedly killed in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour as “unknown terrorist gangs” seized the town last week.

Thousands of refugees have fled across the border to neighboring Turkey as Syrian troops backed by tanks entered Jisr al-Shughour, arresting hundreds of residents and regaining control of the rebellious town earlier this week.

Lavrov reiterated Russia’s position on Wednesday, saying that the country would not support a resolution condemning violence in Syria that France and Britain are expected to put to a vote at the UN Security Council in the near future.

Russia insists that reforms promised by Assad should go forward and a dialogue with the opposition launched to resolve the crisis, the minister said.

“We urge that… the reforms announced by President Assad are implemented, but at the same time, the forces leading the opposition, those who carry out armed attacks on the government forces and government buildings, must respond to a call for dialogue,” he said.

A delegation of Syrian opposition figures and human rights activists will visit Moscow on June 27 to discuss ways out of the political crisis in the country with Mikhail Margelov, the Russian presidential envoy to Africa, the head of the Syrian Center for Political Strategic Studies, an independent organization based in Washington, told RIA Novosti.

According to Russian media reports, the visit will take place by invitation of Russian public organizations.

The Syrian opposition hopes that Russia will change its position, the Arabic-language Elaf news portal quoted prominent opposition activists as saying.

“As the Syrian revolution unfolds and since the number of Syrians joining demonstrations is on the rise, Russia should change its position,” activist Ashraf al-Makdad said.

During their forthcoming visit to Russia, representatives of the Syrian opposition should “take maximum efforts to try to change the Russian government’s official stance,” he said.

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