Syrian civil war at stalemate, Assad won't go: Russia

Sat Dec 22, 2012 12:24pm EST
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By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) - 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 on Saturday.

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 defenses in neighboring 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.   Continued...

Free Syrian Army fighters inspect a tank after the fighters said they fought and defeated government troops in Al-Latameneh, near Hama December 22, 2012. REUTERS/Redwan Al-Homsi/Shaam News Network/Handout