Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Moscow will no longer oppose the departure of President Bashar al-Assad if that is the wish of Syrians, a comment suggesting that Russian support for Assad is weakening:
If the Syrians agree [about President Assad's departure] between each other, we will only be happy to support such a solution.
Lavrov’s statement was made after another week of violence in Syria. Activists report that, just today, Saturday, the Syrian army killed 17 people in the southern city of Deraa, where the uprising started in March of 2011 after some teenagers were arrested for writing anti-regime graffiti on a building. The BBC’s Jim Muir, reporting from Lebanon, noted that “despite frequent attempts to subdue Deraa, the city has never really been completely tamed by government forces” and that members of the rebel Free Syrian Army are active in and around it.
Residents of the capital of Damascus described shootings and explosions, with regime tanks in the city’s streets shelling buildings for the first time. However, BBC correspondent Paul Danahar said he did not see evidence of street battles after visiting one of the sites.
Danahar visited the village of Qubeir, where reports of a massacre as savage as that previously discovered in the town of Houla have been confirmed. United Nations monitors had at first been barred by the Syrian army from entering Qubeir and reported being shot at. Activists say that at least 80 were killed in Qubeir; UN monitors are still determining the number. Danahar described the smell of burned flesh in the air:
Men walked into this village on Wednesday morning with the intention of killing everything that moved. But butchering the families that lived in this tiny Sunni Muslim community was not enough to quench their bloodlust. So the animals died too, their carcasses left to rot in the summer sun.
If this was an act of mindless violence the fact that the bodies of the people had been removed suggested a very clear-headed attempt to hide the truth.
Condemning the killings, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke of Syria being on the very brink of civil war while UN envoy Kofi Annan stated what has been too long apparent, that his six-point peace plan has not been implemented.
The te Syrian National Council (SNC), the main coalition of Syria’s opposition groups, is to elect a new president in Turkey on Saturday, after its Paris-based president, Burhan Ghalioun, resigned. The group has not been able to shake off dissension during the months of the uprising, which has taken over 10,000 lives. If Assad were to step down, no clear successor has yet emerged.
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Photo by Freedom House 2