Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that an attack by Syrian army defectors on an intelligence complex brought the nation closer to civil war and pressed Moscow's call for talks between the government and its opponents.
Lavrov urged all states that are anxious for a peaceful outcome in Syria to demand that both the government and opposition groups halt the violence and begin talks, which he said should take place at the Arab League headquarters.
We see television reports that say some new force, the so-called Free Syrian Army, I believe, organised an attack on ... a building belonging to the Syrian armed forces, Lavrov said. This is already completely similar to real civil war.
The army defectors fired machine guns and rockets at an Air Force Intelligence complex on the edge of Damascus on Wednesday in an assault that showed how close the popular uprising against Assad's rule is to sliding into armed conflict.
Russia joined China last month in vetoing a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Assad's government, saying it was one-sided and could have led to military intervention.
Moscow has urged Assad to implement reforms faster but says his opponents share blame for the violence, which the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people since a government crackdown on protesters began eight months ago.
Syrian authorities blame the unrest on armed terrorist gangs and foreign-backed militants they say have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.
The violence in Syria is not coming only from government structures, Lavrov said at a news conference after talks with Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna.
There are more and more weapons there that arrive by contraband from neighbouring countries, he said.
Russia has close ties with Syria, which has been a big buyer of Russian weapons and hosts a Russian naval maintenance facility on the Mediterranean.
Syrian opposition leaders in Moscow on Wednesday urged Russia to call on Assad to resign, but Lavrov and a deputy told them they should enter dialogue with the government.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Mark Heinrich)