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    Assad appeals to emerging powers for help

    A Syrian opposition fighter ran for cover from army snipers in the northern city of Aleppo on Wednesday.
    BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
    A Syrian opposition fighter ran for cover from army snipers in the northern city of Aleppo on Wednesday.

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — President Bashar Assad of Syria beseeched a five-nation group of emerging powers Wednesday to help halt the Syrian conflict, one day after the Arab League moved to further isolate Assad by ceremoniously filling his government’s vacant seat with the opposition coalition that has sworn to topple him.

    In a letter addressed to the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — which are called the BRICS group of developing nations and which convened a summit in Durban, South Africa — Assad sought to frame his request as a plea for assistance in the fight of good against evil. He depicted the opposition forces as terrorists bent on destroying Syria with help from a conspiracy of hostile Arab and Western countries.

    “You, with all the huge political, economic, and cultural weight you represent that seeks to consolidate peace, security, and justice in the troubled world of today, are called upon to exert all possible efforts to end the suffering of the Syrian people,’’ Assad said in the letter, as reported by SANA, the official Syrian news agency.


    There was no indication the BRICS group would align itself with Assad in the conflict, which has left more than 70,000 people dead and millions displaced.

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    In a communique issued at the end of the summit meeting, the member countries said, ‘‘We express our deep concern with the deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in Syria and condemn the increasing violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law as a result of continued violence.’’

    The communique also said the BRICS countries believed that an agreement reached in Geneva on June 30 under the auspices of the United Nations and the Arab League, aimed at creating a transitional government in Syria, ‘‘provides a basis for resolution of the Syrian crisis and reaffirms our opposition to any further militarization of the conflict.’’

    In a passage that was welcomed by rights groups, which have been critical of the Assad government’s control over where and how international humanitarian aid is distributed inside Syria, the communique urged all parties ‘‘to allow and facilitate immediate, safe, full, and unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations to all in need of assistance.’’

    Carroll Bogert, the deputy executive director for external relations at Human Rights Watch, who was observing the BRICS meeting, said that passage was potentially significant, particularly if Russia and China, the two BRICS members that have defended Assad’s government, now pressure him on the aid issue. If that pressure is not forthcoming, she said in a telephone interview, ‘‘they’ve made a pretty weak statement on Syria.’’ Both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China have repeatedly thwarted attempts by Western and Arab members to punish Assad for his repression of a political uprising that began two years ago.


    Brazil, India, and South Africa have sought to be more neutral, urging antagonists in the conflict to negotiate a solution.

    On Wednesday, Russia expressed its unhappiness about the Arab League’s decision to award the Assad government seat to the opposition group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, done with fanfare at a summit meeting in Doha, Qatar, the previous day. Syria was suspended from the 22-nation Arab League in November 2011.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Arab League’s decision in filling the seat was ‘‘unlawful and invalid’’ and ‘‘completely counter to the common understanding of the need for a peaceful political settlement in Syria and ways to achieve it.’’

    The coalition’s leader, Sheik Moaz al-Khatib, who took the seat to the applause of fellow Arab League members, castigated Assad’s government in an emotional acceptance speech, asserting, ‘‘What is happening in Syria is a struggle between freedom and slavery, between justice and injustice.’’

    Russia’s disapproval of the Arab League decision was echoed by Iran, Assad’s only regional ally. Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said the decision signified ‘‘the end of the role of the Arab League in the region,’’ according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.