Germany, Russia agree on ‘political solution’ for Syria; Assad forces fire on protesters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin having an informal chat before talks at the Chancellery in Berlin. (Reuters)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that she and Russian President Vladimir Putin both favored a political solution in Syria, as death toll from the violent crackdown on Syrian protesters continued to rise.

“The latest massacre in Houla showed once again how terrible the human and human rights situation is in Syria,” Merkel said at a joint news conference with Putin after talks in Berlin.

“We both made clear that we want a political solution, and that the Annan plan can be a starting point, but we must work with all our energy and force, particularly in the U.N. Security Council, on implementing this plan and if necessary developing other political actions.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Friday that Syria could be on the brink of a civil war but underlined his opposition to military intervention to stop the bloodshed.

“You cannot do anything by force,” he told reporters in Berlin.

Emerging elements of vivil war

As pressure on Moscow mounted to drop its resistance to tougher U.N. action on Syria, Putin said the deadly strife risked tearing the country in two.

“Today we are seeing emerging elements of civil war,” he told reporters. “It is extremely dangerous.”

But he hit back at suggestions Moscow was supplying arms for use in Syria, saying his country did not deliver weapons to be deployed in civil conflicts.

“As far as arms supplies are concerned, Russia does not supply the weapons that could be used in a civil conflict,” he said.

The president, on his first trip to the West since returning to the Kremlin for a third term, insisted his country was not siding with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime against the opposition.

“We are supporting neither side from which the danger of civil war is coming,” he said.

And he stressed that a negotiated solution was the only answer to the crisis.

Death toll mounts in Syria crackdown

In Syria, regime forces opened fire on protesters killing 43 people across the country according to Local Coordination Committees.

Scores of protests broke out across Syria to condemn the May 25 Houla massacre.

At one protest in Duma, “regime forces opened fire on demonstrators. Everyone had to run away because there was nobody there to protect them,” activist Mohammed al-Dumani said via Skype.

The demonstrations were called to commemorate the 108 victims of a massacre last week, including 49 children, in the central town of Houla. Activists hailed the children as the “flares of victory” in the 15-month anti-regime uprising.

Large crowds in Aleppo, northern Syria, “chanted for the victory of the martyrs of Houla,” also reportedly coming under regime gunfire, another activist who declined to be named told AFP.

The U.N.-backed ceasefire that came into force on April 12 has failed to take hold. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, almost 2,300 people have been killed since the start of the truce.

Earlier on Friday, regime troops killed five people during raids in the town of Daraya outside the capital Damascus, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

Regime troops stormed the town -- a center for the armed opposition -- with tanks and fired shells at its western districts, the Observatory said.

Local activists said the five killed were civilians, adding that one of them was an activist and “regime forces burnt his body completely after they killed him.”

The Houla massacre, which Damascus blamed on “armed groups,” stoked an international outcry and the expulsion of top Syrian diplomats from several Western countries.

On Friday morning, in al-Esseily neighborhood of Damascus, protesters demanded that further action be taken against the Syrian authorities.

“O Arabs, we demand more than the expulsion of the (Syrian) ambassadors; we also demand the expulsion of the Russian and Chinese ambassadors” in Damascus, read one poster.

In the southern province of Daraa, a man was shot dead as he left a mosque in al-Sheikh Maskeen village, while heavy gunfire and explosions were reported in several towns.

In Homs province, a child was injured in regime shelling of Houla, according to the Observatory.

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