Syrian regime forces killed at least 23 people in deadly battles with armed opposition groups nationwide on Monday as the European Union urged Russia to overcome differences over Syria to end 15 months of bloodshed.
In talks at Saint Petersburg with Russian President Vladimir Putin, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said the EU and Russia “might have some divergent assessments” of the situation in Syria.
The meeting came a day after President Bashar al-Assad vowed to crush an anti-regime uprising after the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced on Friday that it was resuming “defensive operations.”
Local Coordination Committees said regime forces killed at least 23 people in battles with armed opposition groups across the country.
Fresh clashes erupted between the regime and its foes in Idlib province late on Sunday, killing two opposition fighters, as explosions were reported in Damascus province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Fighting continued on Monday with the Observatory saying Syrian forces used helicopter gunships to strafe positions in the northeastern province of Deir Ezzor, while at least eight people died in violence across Syria.
On Saturday, 57 soldiers were killed in Syria, the largest number of casualties the military has suffered in a single day since the uprising broke out in mid-March 2011, the watchdog said.
EU leaders agreed with the Russian president that a U.N.-backed six-point peace plan “as a whole provides the best opportunity to break the cycle of violence in Syria, avoiding a civil war,” Van Rompuy said.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Aston Ashton, who met Lavrov on Sunday, said the EU wanted to “work closely with Russia to find a way to end the violence” and that “Russia’s role is crucial for the success of Annan’s plan”.
China’s top state newspaper, the People’s Daily, warned on Monday that any Western-backed military intervention would unleash even bloodier chaos, and said that abandoning Annan’s plan could push Syria into the “abyss” of full-scale war.
On Friday, Russia, China and Cuba voted against a resolution passed by the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva that condemned Syria for the Houla massacre and called for a U.N. inquiry ahead of a possible criminal prosecution.
Stephens, the RUSI analyst, said the Chinese were “living in a “dream world” if they thought Syria could regain peace as long as Assad clung to power.
But he also said letting Annan’s mission fail would be a disaster, arguing that the monitors could play a useful role by documenting abuses, making it harder for Russia and China to sustain their effective support for Assad.
Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a political scientist from the United Arab Emirates, said no one wanted to abandon Annan’s initiative, however futile it had proved in stopping the violence, adding:
“The only way to tip the balance is for the Arab and Western countries to increase their support for the Free Syrian Army.”