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Russia says Assad wants peace, as Syria vows no let-up

Update: February, 08/2012 - 11:46

DAMASCUS – Russia said on Tuesday that President Bashar al-Assad was "fully committed" to ending the bloodshed in Syria, as his regime pounded the city of Homs for a fourth day and vowed no let-up.

As several European nations pulled their ambassadors from Syria, a top US senator called for the arming of rebels fighting Assad's rule and Washington said it was exploring options for providing humanitarian aid.

Tank and artillery fire rained on Homs, killing at least 15 civilians, activists said, as the interior ministry vowed to keep up its onslaught against "terrorist groups."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov flew into Damascus on Tuesday.

Russia, which along with China over the weekend vetoed a UN resolution condemning the government crackdown, has staunchly stood by Syria.

"We (Russia) confirmed our readiness to act for a rapid solution to the crisis based on the plan put forward by the Arab League," said Lavrov, adding Syria was ready to see an enlarged Arab League mission in the country, Russian news agencies reported.

"We have every reason to believe that the signal that we've brought here to move along in a more active manner along all directions has been heard," he said.

"In particular, President Assad assured (us) that he is fully committed to the task of a cessation of violence, from whatever source it comes."

The 22-member Arab League deployed an observer mission to Syria in December to oversee a plan to end the bloodshed, but it was suspended a month later amid increasing violence on the ground.

It has since put forward a new plan for Assad to hand his powers to Vice President Faruq al-Shara and for the formation of a national unity government to oversee the preparation of democratic elections.

Lavrov did not specify which of the two Arab plans he was referring to in his comments on Tuesday, although SANA quoted Assad as interpreting the reference to be to the earlier one.

Lavrov said Syria was pressing ahead with the reform programme Assad promised in speeches last year and would soon announce the timetable for a referendum on a new constitution to replace the current one that enshrines the dominance of his Baath party.

SANA said Assad would receive the text drawn up by an appointed panel on Wednesday.Turkey, a former Assad ally which shared Western anger over the Russian and Chinese vetoes, said it would launch a "new initiative" with like-minded countries which "stand by the Syrian people, not the regime".

And the six Arab states of the Gulf announced that they had decided to expel Syria's envoys and withdraw their own from Damascus in protest over the "mass slaughter" of civilians. – AFP

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