Russia says it will not help Assad leave Syria

Key ally appears to be distancing itself from leader

 Demonstrators rallied for President Bashar Assad in Tartus, Syria, where support for his regime remains strong.
AFP/Getty Images/FILE 2011
Demonstrators rallied for President Bashar Assad in Tartus, Syria, where support for his regime remains strong.

BEIRUT — The foreign minister of Russia, Syria’s most reliable ally, said Saturday that Russia would not act as a mediator in any attempts to get President Bashar Assad to leave Syria, although the minister said several countries were offering asylum, according to the Interfax news agency.

‘‘We would be the first to cross ourselves and say, ‘Thank God, the carnage is over,’’’ the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, told reporters who accompanied him on a flight home from the Russia-European Union summit meeting in Brussels, Interfax said.

‘‘Several countries in the region have turned to us and suggested, ‘Tell Assad we are ready to fix him up,’ ” Lavrov said. ‘‘And we answered: ‘What do we have to do with it? If you have such plans, approach him directly.’ ’’


Lavrov’s comments follow several days of signals from Russia that it is distancing itself from Assad, while maintaining its strong opposition to any Western intervention in Syria

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Rebel fighters, meanwhile, have claimed new gains in the war, pushing aggressively toward government strongholds near Damascus, the capital, and in the central city of Hama, while drawing a vicious response from the military.

Last week, opposition fighters tried to occupy the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, which they planned to use as a staging ground for attacks on central Damascus, setting off a fierce battle that caused most of the camp’s residents to flee.

On Saturday afternoon, a car bomb detonated in the Damascus suburb of Qaboun, killing at least six, as well as destroying buildings and wounding scores of people.

The neighborhood is less than 2 miles from central Damascus, in a belt of restive suburbs where the rebels have had a presence for more than a year. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.


Fighting continued Saturday in central Syria, where rebels have been attacking government checkpoints and positions in an effort to cut the military’s supply routes to Idlib Province, in the north. In a video posted on the Internet on Friday, rebel fighters threatened violence against the residents of two Christian villages in Hama Province if they did not evict loyalists known as shabiha.

The warning was met with alarm by a resident of one of the villages, al-Suqaylabiyah. The resident, a doctor who is currently in Turkey, said that the village was 95 percent Christian and that most residents had chosen not to take sides in the war. The appearance of the men in the video — ‘‘very Islamic and militarized,’’ he said — was unlikely to win the rebels any support.

Lavrov also said Saturday that Syria has consolidated its chemical weapons into one or two locations to protect them from falling into the hands of militants. Russia, which has military advisers in the country to train Syria’s armed forces, is monitoring the chemical arsenal, Lavrov added.

Syria refuses to confirm or deny if it has chemical weapons, but is believed to have nerve agents, as well as mustard gas. It also possesses Scud missiles capable of delivering them. The Assad government has said it would never use such weapons against its own people.

Concerns over the arsenal have escalated as the Assad regime suffers losses on the battlefield. US intelligence officials have said the regime may be readying chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them. Both Israel and the United States have also expressed concerns about the weapons.


Both Lavrov and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have in recent days said that they predict a long period of instability in Syria. On Saturday, Lavrov said he believed that Western intelligence services shared the assessment that ‘‘the end of the regime will hardly bring an end’’ to the conflict.