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Assad won’t go – Russia

Syrian refugee children queue as they wait to receive aid from Turkish humanitarian agencies at Bab al-Salam refugee camp in Syria near the Turkish border yesterday.

Syrian refugee children queue as they wait to receive aid from Turkish humanitarian agencies at Bab al-Salam refugee camp in Syria near the Turkish border yesterday.

Syria’s civil war has reached stalemate and international efforts to persuade President Bashar al-Assad to quit will fail, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday.

Mainly Sunni Muslim rebels seeking to overthrow Assad are fighting on the edge of the capital Damascus and expanding southwards from their northern strongholds in Aleppo and Idlib into the central province of Hama.

But Assad, from the Alawite minority linked to Shi’ite Islam, has responded with artillery, air strikes and – according to the Nato military alliance which is stationing anti-missile defences in neighbouring Turkey – with Scud-type missiles.

The Kremlin’s Middle East envoy was quoted as saying earlier this month that the rebels could defeat Assad’s forces and that Moscow was preparing a possible evacuation of Russians, the strongest signs yet that it is preparing for a post-Assad Syria.

That followed concerted calls from Western powers and some Arab countries for Assad to step down before Syria’s 21-month-old conflict, which has killed more than 44,000 people according to activists, wreaks more destruction.

But Lavrov said the Syrian president was not about to bow to pressure from opponents or more sympathetic leaders in Moscow and Beijing.

“Listen, no one is going to win this war,” he told reporters aboard a government plane en route to Moscow from the Russia-EU summit in Brussels. “Assad is not going anywhere, no matter what anyone says, be it China or Russia.”

Lavrov said Russia had rejected requests from countries in the region to pressure Assad to go or offer him safe haven, and warned that his exit might lead to an upsurge in fighting.

He also said Syrian authorities were gathering the country’s chemical weapons in one or two areas and that they were “under control” for the time being. “Currently the (Syrian) government is doing all it can to secure (chemical weapons), according to intelligence data we have and the West has,” he said.

Western countries said three weeks ago that Assad’s government might be preparing to use poison gas to counter rebels who are encamped around his capital and control rural Aleppo and Idlib in the north.

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