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Syrian collapse 'threatens region'

The United Nations envoy for the Syria crisis has warned that further deterioration of conditions in the country could send an unbearable stream of refugees into neighbouring countries.

Speaking today after meeting in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Lakhdar Braihmi said "if you have a panic in Damascus and if you have one million people leaving Damascus in a panic, they can go to only two places - Lebanon and Jordan. "

Mr Brahimi said that both countries could break if faced with half a million refugees.

Mr Brahimi said that "if the only alternative is really hell or a political process, then we have got all of us to work ceaselessly for a political process".

Neither official gave indication of significant progress toward resolving the 21-month-old conflict in which an estimated 40,000 people have died.

Mr Lavrov said the demand by the Syrian opposition that Syrian President Bashar Assad step down as a precondition to talks was "incorrect and counterproductive".

"The price for that precondition will be the loss of more Syrian lives," Mr Lavrov said.

Russia is one of Mr Assad's strongest backers, although its top officials have recently expressed some resignation to the idea that he could fall. Still, Russia opposes international calls for his overthrow and wants a negotiated solution to the conflict.

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