Activists say anti-government related violence left at least 25 people dead in Syria on Saturday, as Russia, a strong backer of Damascus, said the country appeared to be on the “brink of civil war.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tells VOA at least 17 people were killed in government shelling in the southern city of Daraa. The British-based opposition group says at least 8 other people were killed in shelling and clashes between pro and opposition forces in other regions including Homs.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed heightened concern about Syria’s unrest during a Moscow news conference on Saturday. But, he said Russia would not back any U.N. Security Council proposals for the use of force against Damascus.
Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Lavrov did say Russia would support Mr. Assad’s departure if the move resulted from Syrian dialogue and not external pressure.
International envoy Kofi Annan called for more pressure on Syria Friday as he discussed his stalled Syrian peace plan with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, U.N. observers fanned out from Damascus on Saturday on another mission to monitor compliance with Mr. Annan’s plan. On Friday, observers visited the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir, where activists said pro-government forces killed at least 78 people this week. The observers said there was blood and the “stench of burned flesh.”
The Syrian government has blamed “armed gunmen” and “terrorists” for deadly violence. The state-run SANA news agency said funerals were held Saturday for 57 law enforcement officers and civilians, killed by terrorists across Syria.
In another Saturday development, the opposition Syrian National Council met in Turkey to select a new leader following last month’s resignation of Burhan Ghalioun.
Council member Bassma Kodmani says the group has reached a turning point.
“There is a consensus inside the council that there should be a rotating presidency. So, we are now changing the president for the coming three months. And the other important point is that we will be restructuring the council over the coming weeks.”
VOA reporter Dorian Jones says Ghalioun had faced increasing criticism from coalition members.
Jones also reports that the group has been strongly criticized for being dominated by the Sunni Muslim, pro-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.