Putin: Assad could have avoided war

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President Bashar al-Assad could have avoided conflict in Syria by implementing reforms demanded by his people, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

“The country was ripe for serious changes, and the leadership should’ve felt that in time and started making changes. Then what’s happening wouldn’t have happened,” Putin told English-language state TV Russia Today.

However, he also blamed “certain people from outside” who “think that if you shape the whole region under the same style, which some people like and some call democracy, then there will be peace and order. That isn’t so at all.”

Russia was not acting as an advocate for Assad, he added.

Moscow has constantly criticized the West for showing support to the opposition and fears it will start aiding the Syrian rebels with lethal weapons.

On Monday, a US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the White House is considering arming the Syrian rebels and a decision will materialize this week.

Meanwhile, France said on Tuesday that the Syrian conflict has reached a “turning point” after the Syrian regime with the backing of the Lebanese Shiite group, Hezbollah, declared victory against opposition fighters in the strategic town of Qusayr.

France’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot, said weakening the rebels after their defeat in Qusayr and other losses made it more difficult to bring them to the negotiating table with representatives from Assad’s government.

Russia and US have planned a Geneva conference thatcould take place over the weekend of June 15-16 that will bring Syrian regimes and opposition officials together to the negotiating table.

“With the fall of Qusayr, we are seeing a dramatic development,” Reuters reported him as saying.

“It’s even more worrying given that Aleppo is being announced as the next target of the regime and its allies ... We are at a turning point in the Syrian war.”

Soon after the fall of Qusayr, George Sabra acting head of the opposition main group, Syrian National Council, sounded the alarm over what he described as the “Iranian invasion” on Syria.

Sabra urged the Arab League and West to act and get rid Syria of the “invaders.” The Syrian regime has received backing from Hezbollah as well as Iran.

“There are consequences to be drawn from what happened in Qusayr and what’s happening in Aleppo. The first consequence is to strengthen the ties with the coalition, and the question we’re asked is whether to go one step further and deliver weapons,” Lalliot said.

The lifting of a European Union embargo on arms deliveries to Syria, and rapid changes on the battlefield, meant that “talks and thinking” were now needed on the issue, he added.

“We cannot leave the opposition in the situation in which it finds itself.”

The Syrian conflict started as a protest against Assad but morphed into a civil war that killed at least 80,000 people, according to the United Nations.

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