Russian FM: Both Syrian sides to blame for deathsMOSCOW (AP) — Both sides in the Syria conflict "had a hand" in the deaths of more than 100 civilians in Houla, Russia's foreign minister said Monday, calling for a full investigation.
By: LYNN BERRY, Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — Both sides in the Syria conflict "had a hand" in the deaths of more than 100 civilians in Houla, Russia's foreign minister said Monday, calling for a full investigation.
The comments by Sergey Lavrov came a day after the U.N. Security Council, which includes Russia, blamed the Syrian government for attacking residential areas in Houla, a collection of villages near the central city of Homs, but avoided saying who was responsible for the massacre of at least 108 men, women and children.
"Both sides have obviously had a hand in the deaths of innocent people, including several dozen women and children. This area is controlled by the rebels, but it is also surrounded by the governmental troops," Lavrov said after talks in Moscow with visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Lavrov said there was no doubt that government forces had used artillery and tanks to shell Houla, or that many of the bodies were found with wounds indicating the victims had been shot at close range or tortured.
"The guilt has to be determined objectively," Lavrov said. "No one is saying that the government is not guilty, and no one is saying that the armed militants are not guilty."
Lavrov and Hague both called for greater efforts to implement a peace plan put forward by special envoy Kofi Annan, who arrived in Damascus on Monday for talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and other senior Syrian officials. Annan's six-point plan calls on both sides to respect a cease-fire.
"It's right, as Sergey Lavrov has just done, to call on all parties to cease violence, and we are not arguing that all violence in Syria is the responsibility of the Assad regime, although it has the primary responsibility for such violence," Hague said.
Lavrov added that "we don't support the Syrian government, we support Kofi Annan's plan."
Lavrov called for all in the international community to focus on implementing Annan's plan, saying it was not clear from talks with opposition members that they were getting the message that the plan was fully supported by all. The Russian envoy said talk about the need for Assad to step down cast doubt on the West's commitment to the Annan plan and encouraged the opposition to keep up the fight.
Hague, however, confirmed that Britain still believes Assad should stand aside.
"But the important thing is that the Annan plan is pursued in whatever way it can be pursued," he said. "The alternatives are the Annan plan or ever-increasing chaos in Syria, and a descent closer and closer to all-out civil war and collapse."
China on Monday also condemned the killings of civilians in Houla and called for an end to the violence, but gave no indication it was rethinking its strategy toward the fighting in Syria.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said that Beijing fully supports Annan's mediation efforts and the UN monitors.
The protests against Assad began in March 2011 and turned into an uprising after his government responded with a violent crackdown on dissent. The U.N. estimated that at least 9,000 people were killed in the first year of the conflict, but hundreds more have been killed since then.
Zhao Liang in Beijing contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.