Russia backs Red Cross demand to Syrian government

March 19, 2012 - 2:46 PM
Russia Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, listens to his Serbian counterpart Vuk Jeremic, unseen, during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 16, 2012. Lavrov spoke by telephone Thursday with Annan and "expressed his support for the envoy's mission, noting that Russia would provide him with active assistance," the Foreign Ministry said. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia said Monday that Syria's government and rebels should halt their fighting once a day to give the Red Cross access to the wounded and that jailed protesters should be allowed to have visitors.

The call from Russia, an important ally of Syria's, came after its officials met with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had urged Moscow to take such a stand.

Russia had previously backed the ICRC's call for a cease-fire, but Monday's statement from the Foreign Ministry was worded more strongly than the previous ones, in an apparent signal that Moscow is raising the pressure on Syria.

The statement followed Moscow's talks between ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov focusing on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said it agrees with the ICRC about what is needed during Syria's uprising. ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad Mardini welcomed Moscow's response, saying his organization "received positive indications of support on its operational priorities and on its call for a two-hour cessation in fighting on a daily basis."

The Red Cross has not received permission from Syria to access all parts of the country affected by the fighting. Damascus also has not agreed to daily cease-fires.

Mardini said the meeting with Lavrov was part of contacts "with all those who could have a positive influence on its action in Syria," adding that the Red Cross hopes to "see concrete results of such meetings on the ground in the coming days or weeks."

"Our main interlocutors remain the Syrian authorities and the Syrian opposition," she added.

Russia and China have protected Syria from United Nations sanctions over its crackdown on the uprising, in which more than 8,000 people have been killed. But Moscow recently has shown some signs that it was losing patience with Syrian President Bashar Assad's harsh stance.

Lavrov told lawmakers last week that the Syrian leader has been slow to implement long-needed reforms, warning that the conflict in the Arab state could spiral out of control.

He also complained in a weekend interview with state television about the "unproportional" use of force by the government troops and said that Moscow disagrees with many of the decisions made by the Syrian leadership.

"We are supporting the need to start a political process, and to do that it's necessary to have a cease-fire first," Lavrov said. "Russia will do everything for that, irrespective of the decisions made by the Syrian government. We disagree with many of those, by the way."

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Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.