- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 11, 2012

MOSCOW — A prominent Syrian opposition leader said Wednesday that Russia’s resistance to international intervention in the conflict was bringing misery and “suffering” to the violence-torn country.

Two Syrian opposition delegations visited Moscow this week, raising hopes that Russia could be pushed to accept the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But Syrian National Council head Abdelbaset Sieda said he sees “no change” in Moscow’s stance after meeting with officials that included Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“The Syrian people are suffering because of Russia, because of the position it has taken, because of its veto in the U.N. Security Council,” Mr. Sieda said at a news conference. “The current regime uses Russian weapons against its own people.”

More than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Mr. Assad began in March 2011, according to Syrian activists. Russia says its current arms contracts with Syria do not include weapons that could be used against civilians.

Mr. Sieda called for intervention by the U.N., and said no dialogue with the regime is possible until Mr. Assad is ousted.

Both those demands are in sharp contrast to Russia’s position. Russia strongly opposes international intervention and says that if Mr. Assad goes, it must be as the result of dialogue.

Russia and China twice have blocked U.N. condemnation of Syria’s government and worked to water down U.N. plans for a transition at a conference in Geneva last month. At the conference, Russia insisted that any political transition have the “mutual consent” of Mr. Assad’s government and the opposition, essentially handing a veto on the peacemaking process to both sides.

Mr. Lavrov on Wednesday repeated Russia’s support for non-intervention, and insisted that any solution would have to be decided by “Syrians themselves,” not by any foreign power.

Mr. Lavrov also expressed doubt that the fragmented Syrian opposition is ready to act as a real partner for dialogue with the regime.

After a meeting on Monday with members of the Syrian Democratic Forum, another opposition group, the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed the need for “the Syrian opposition to act on one platform.”

Meanwhile, a group of Christians trapped in the besieged, bombed-out Syrian city of Homs has been evacuated after a deal between the army and rebels, a priest involved in the evacuation efforts said Wednesday.

Maximos al-Jamal, a Greek Orthodox priest who has been following the plight of Syrian Christians in Homs, said 63 people were taken out to safety over the past 24 hours.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population, say they are particularly vulnerable to the violence sweeping the country of 22 million people. They are fearful that Syria will become another Iraq, with Christians caught in the crossfire between rival Muslim groups.

Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, has a substantial Christian population and has been one of the hardest-hit regions since the uprising against the Assad regime began in March 2011. Rebels control several neighborhoods, which has sparked several rounds of intense attacks by government troops over the past months.

The rebels have controlled the Christian neighborhoods of Hamidiyeh and Bustan Diwan since early February. Sporadic clashes with government troops have already forced tens of thousands of Christians to flee the neighborhoods to a relatively safe area known as the Valley of the Christians, just outside Homs. Those that stayed faced increasing danger.

Mr. al-Jamal said about 100 of the civilians who remained trapped in the two besieged Homs neighborhoods are Christians, down from thousands who lived in the area before the uprising began.

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