83 more civilians killed in Syria

Pro-regime forces killed 83 civilians throughout Syria on Saturday, including women and children among 20 dead in the flashpoint town of Daraa, a watchdog group said. Nine women and three children were among those killed in a pre-dawn bombardment of a residential neighbourhood in the
southern city of Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Dozens more were wounded, some of them seriously, in the city which was the birthplace of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the watchdog said.

In the restive central city of Homs, 29 people died in a bombardment by government troops, the British-based observatory said.

The toll comes among growing international anger over the Syrian crackdown on a revolt in which more than 13,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since March 2011.

On Saturday Russia pushed its idea of an international conference including Iran to end the bloodshed in Syria.

However Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also stressed that Moscow would "not sanction the use of force at the United Nations Security Council."

Russia's position unchanged

Russia has growing concerns about the conflict in Syria, but it will continue to oppose the outside use of force, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

"The situation in Syria is becoming more alarming," Lavrov told a news conference Saturday, during which he pushed Russia's proposal for an international conference on the crisis. "An impression is being created that Syria is on the verge of a full-scale civil conflict."

He said two recent attacks had put Russians in the capital, Damascus, in danger: a bus carrying Russian specialists came under fire Saturday, and a grenade attack took place Friday on a building where Russians live. There were no injuries, he said.

Despite growing concerns that the situation may be spinning out of control, Russia, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, "will not sanction the use of force," he said. Russia has previously blocked proposed UN resolutions to impose sanctions on President Bashar Assad's regime.

Lavrov said Russia's resistance to intervention is "not because we are protecting Assad and his regime, but because we know that Syria is a complicated multi-confessional state, and because we know that some of those calling for military intervention want to ruin this and turn Syria into a battleground for domination in the Islamic world."

Russia has been a strong supporter of the mission of UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, who has put forth a plan for ending the violence between Assad's forces and opposition fighters.

But the plan is severely stumbling amid the rise in violence, and Lavrov said an international conference should convene to galvanize international commitment to the plan.

He said participants should include the permanent members of the Security Council, the European Union and influential countries in the region. He said American objections to Iran's possible participation were "shallow."

The Interfax news agency on Saturday quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying "Iran has the full right to be represented at this conference because on account of Iran's regional role and the specific character of its relations with Syria we consider that the participation of Iran could play a constructive role."

The UN said several weeks ago that at least 9,000 people have been killed since the crisis began in March last year, while Syrian activists say the violence has claimed the lives of more than 13,000.


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