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China, Russia cool on Syria meeting

2012-02-22 10:40 Global Times     Web Editor: Xu Aqing comment

China said yesterday it needs further study on a West-backed meeting on the Syria crisis, and Russia turned down the invitation to the meeting.

Representatives from the Syrian National Council, the largest opposition entity, and other opposition groups, together with Arab, European and US diplomats, will attend the first Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia on Friday.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed yesterday China has received an invitation for the meeting in Tunisia. But, he didn't reveal whether China would attend.

"China welcomes all efforts for a peaceful and proper resolution to the Syria crisis," Hong said, adding that China needs to further examine the meeting's function and mechanism.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem told reporters on Monday the participants would "send a strong message to the Syrian government" at the meeting.

Russia regretted that the only Syrian representatives will be from the opposition and does not believe the effort will help start dialogue between different sides in the dispute.

"It seems that the 'Friends of Syria' meeting will talk about creating an international coalition as a way of organizing the Libya Contact Group," said Chen Shuangqing, a Syrian issues observer at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

"However, all borders are still under control of the Syrian government, so it is not possible yet for large-scale inflow of heavy weapons and other supplies to the armed opposition groups fighting the Syrian army," Chen told the Global Times. "That's also why the West kept urging for a 'humanitarian corridor' to besieged cities and areas."

The Syrian government forces continued with their heavy bombardment on a rebel-held district of Homs yesterday, while activists claimed at least 21 people were killed and some 340 wounded, agencies reported.

Imad Mustapha, the newly appointed Syrian ambassador to China, dismissed the reports of casualties in Homs as "unfounded."

"Nobody, even the Syrian government, can verify the number of victims in a conflict zone, where our soldiers are fighting armed terrorists. How can overseas based groups know the accurate number of casualties?" Mustapha told the Global Times.

"They are just sitting in the office and fabricating a number every day, because nobody can verify it. But people will easily believe them," Mustapha added.

In Damascus, security forces opened fire on demonstrators overnight, wounding at least four, Reuters reported, citing unnamed activists.

"Western media's reports have exaggerated the tension in the capital," said a Global Times reporter, who had just left Damascus for Beirut. "Last Friday saw the biggest anti-Assad demonstration in Damascus so far, and only 3,000 to 4,000 people participated. And security forces didn't fire on people directly, but to the sky in response to attacks."

"Nonetheless, Assad's government has began to prepare for the worst scenario now," the reporter said. "A number of government officials are changing jobs to work in Tartus and Latakia, where the Alawite Muslims live."

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