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Moscow/damascus: Russian President Vladimir Putin offered yesterday to host a conference on helping Lebanon and other countries cope with a flood of refugees from Syria.
Putin also said Russia was ready to provide temporary homes, tents, medication and other humanitarian aid during talks with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman outside Moscow. “We will do our utmost to ... sponsor the organisation of an international conference on the refugee problem,” Putin said. “We are ready to offer Moscow as a platform for such a meeting.”
Suleiman said more than 200,000 refugees had fled to Lebanon since the uprising against President Bashar Al Assad began nearly two years ago, straining Beirut’s budget.
The divided Beirut government has officially sought to “dissociate” itself from the conflict in Syria and has resisted calls from humanitarian agencies to set up formal refugee camps like those in Jordan and Turkey.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that there could be no peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria as long as opponents of President Assad refuse to negotiate with his government and demand his exit from power as a precondition for peace talks. “Everything runs up against the opposition members’ obsession with the idea of the overthrow of the Assad regime. As long as this irreconcilable position remains in force, nothing good will happen, armed action will continue, people will die,” Lavrov told an annual news conference.
Lavrov also said that Moscow will continue to respond to US unfriendly moves, but its primary guideline is the readiness to develop Russian-US relations
“Certainly, we will continue to respond to unfriendly moves, but the core of our position is the readiness to develop the relations in all areas and the interest in coordinated actions on the international scene based on equality, mutual respect for interests and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,” the minister said in a statement relayed by Inter-Fax news agency.
The civil war in Syria has ravaged vital infrastructure and halved output of staple crops, the United Nations said yesterday, as a 22-month conflict hardened by sectarian rivalry showed no sign of abating. What began as a peaceful protest movement against President Bashar Al Assad has killed more than 60,000 people, devastated the economy and left 2.5 million people hungry.
Prospects of a negotiated peace have receded as the war becomes more overtly sectarian, making Western powers more wary of supporting the largely Sunni Muslim-and increasingly radicalised-rebellion. Human Rights Watch yesterday pointed to the burning and looting of religious sites of minorities in recent months that suggested an escalation of sectarian strife.
Underscoring the damage wrought by the conflict-the longest and deadliest of the Arab Spring uprisings-the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said wheat and barley production in Syria had dropped to two million tonnes in 2012 from 4-4.5 million tonnes in normal years. Agriculture is vital to the economy, accounting for roughly a fifth of gross domestic product before the war. A UN assessment found the conflict was destroying infrastructure and irrigation systems and that insecurity and fuel shortages were making it harder for farmers to harvest crops.
The devastation to farming could push the government to spend more money on imports, further straining the resources of a country that officials said was self-sufficient in wheat before the conflict. Reuters