MOSCOW — Russia on Thursday acknowledged that a transition period is necessary in Syria to end the violence, but said it had not agreed to a plan by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan that would call for President Bashar Assad to step down and for the creation of a national unity government.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said "it is obvious that a transitional period is needed to overcome the Syrian crisis," but rejected efforts by outside forces to end the country's bloody conflict and insisted that any plans for the future rest on Syria.
Lavrov said Saturday talks by major powers in Geneva must focus on convincing opposition groups to soften their demands.
"We are not supporting and will not support any external meddling," Lavrov said. "External players must not dictate ... to Syrians, but, first of all, must commit to influencing all the sides in Syria to stop the violence."
But, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton argued it was "very clear" that the participants – including Russia – were on board with the transition plan. She told reporters that the invitations to the meeting made clear that representatives "were coming on the basis of (Annan's) transition plan."
She said she expects the meeting "to provide an opportunity to make real progress" on that plan.
Diplomatic hopes have rested on Russia – Syria's most important ally, protector and supplier of arms – to agree to a plan that would end the Assad family dynasty, which has ruled Syria for more than four decades.
But the country – one of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members along with Britain, China, France and the U.S. – has warned it would firmly oppose any document urging Assad to step down.
"First of all, no agreed-upon projects exist, the work on the possible final document is going on," Lavrov told reporters. "I think that the fact that certain formulas, certain ideas proposed for the possible final document by certain countries are leaked to the media manifests an improper approach to diplomacy."
Lavrov said that diplomatic efforts should focus on urging the opposition groups to "refuse from their uncompromising approaches and, in accordance with the Kofi Annan plan, sit down for negotiations with the government."
Lavrov also criticized the exclusion of major regional player Iran from Saturday's high-level meeting.
"Iran is undoubtedly a powerful player in the whole situation," Lavrov said. "Leaving it out of the loop of the Geneva meeting is a mistake."
Also Thursday, a Russian defense official reportedly said that three Syrian attack helicopters that have been refurbished in Russia will be sent to Syria. Last week, a cargo ship carrying the helicopters to Syria was forced to turn back after its British insurer removed the coverage for the vessel.
Alexander Fomin, the Russian defense official, was quoted by the Ria Novosti news agency as saying that Russia plans to deliver the helicopters, without specifying how or when. "Syria is our friend," he was quoted as saying. "And we fulfill all obligations we make to our friends."
Russia has said that the helicopters had been supplied to Syria during Soviet times and refurbished under a 2008 contract.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|