Forty people are killed in Syria as international mediator Kofi Annan arrives in Damascus following the deaths of more than 100, many of them children, in Houla.
Western countries have blamed Assad’s forces for the killings, a charge Damascus denies. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that while Moscow was deeply alarmed by the massacre, it was clear both President Assad’s government and rebels were to blame.
Former Russian government adviser Alexander Nekrassov told Channel 4 News that Moscow was not “trying to save Assad”, but it was important to recognise that intervention would lead to a “full-blown war with an unpredictable number of casualties”.
“I urge the (Syrian) government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process,” Mr Annan told reporters on his arrival in Damascus.
“And this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone with a gun”.
We are dealing with a situation in which both sides evidently had a hand in the deaths of innocent people. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
His visit comes a day after the UN Security Council condemned the latest killings, which it said involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood.
“We are dealing with a situation in which both sides evidently had a hand in the deaths of innocent people,” Mr Lavrov said at a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Mr Hague said Russia and Britain agreed Kofi Annan’s peace plan was “at the moment the only hope” for resolving Syria’s crisis and that Russia had an important role to play.
Russia, along with China, has been reluctant to condemn the actions of President al-Assad’s government blocking previous attempts to impose sanctions on Syria.
“So, has a signal just been sent to me, or an invitation to be trapped by saying too much? In Syria, you never know. You never know if you’re being sounded out by someone who wants to criticise the regime so many hate (state TV channels included) or invited to say more than you should by ‘one of them’.
Read more on Syria’s secret police on Alex Thomson’s blog
Elsewhere the Syrian army’s bombardment of Hama has killed at least 41 people in the past 24 hours, an opposition group in the city said on Monday.
Syrian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles opened fire on several neighbourhoods of Hama on Sunday after a series of attacks by rebel Free Syrian Army fighters on roadblocks and other positions manned by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, opposition sources said.
The dead included five women and eight children, the Hama Revolution leadership Council said in a statement.
The report could not be independently verified.