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Thousands of Syrian soldiers have defected over the past 21 months, and many of them are now fighting against government forces. Many have cited attacks on civilians as the reason they switched sides. Anti-regime activists estimate more than 40,000 have died in the past 21 months.

In Lebanon, airport officials in Beirut said Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and Assistant Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous flew early Wednesday to Moscow.

Their visit to Moscow comes two days after Mr. Assad met in Damascus with Lakhdar Brahimi, the international envoy to Syria. Mr. Brahimi, who is scheduled to go to Moscow as well, gave no indication of progress toward a negotiated solution for the civil war.