Arabs ask Russia to back them on Syria crisis

CAIRO Sat Mar 10, 2012 6:54am EST

CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab League countries pressed Russia on Saturday to back their efforts to end violence in Syria at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday attended by Russia's Sergei Lavrov.

Qatar, which has led efforts to isolate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told the ministers on Saturday it was time to recognize the exiled Syrian National Council as the nation's legitimate representative.

"We must send a message to the Syrian regime that the world's patience and our patience has run out, as has the time for silence about its practices," Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said.

"Here we call for the recognition of the Syrian National Council as the Syrian people's legitimate representative," said Sheikh Hamad, who is also Qatar's foreign minister.

Russia, which as a long-standing ally of Damascus is its main arms supplier, has vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions that blamed Assad's government for the violence.

Lavrov said Moscow was ready to work with anyone seeking reform in Syria, but that the international community should not blame only one side for the violence and that Russia stuck by its principle of not interfering in any country's internal affairs.

"Russia is not protecting any regime. The most urgent task is to end all violence," he said.

Russia and China have so far shielded Damascus from its Western and Arab critics. A new U.N. Security Council resolution has been drawn up by the United States and is under discussion.

League sources said Lavrov held talks late on Friday in Cairo with League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and the special envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, appointed by the United Nations and the League, who travelled to Damascus on Saturday.

One of the U.N. resolutions vetoed by Russia and China was based on an Arab initiative that called for Assad to step aside to allow talks with the opposition to start.

That frustrated Arab capitals, and Qatar and Saudi Arabia have since proposed arming Syrian rebels.

The Arab ministers were also expected to discuss Israeli air strikes that killed 10 militants in the Gaza Strip on Friday.

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