Russia's foreign minister has warned Western and Arab governments against arming rebel forces in Syria that seek to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

On a visit to Azerbaijan, Sergei Lavrov said providing weapons to the opposition would escalate violence in Syria and in any event prove pointless since rebels couldn't hope to defeat Assad’s much bigger and better-equipped military.

Even if they arm the Syrian opposition to the teeth, it won't be able to defeat the Syrian army, Lavrov said. The carnage will go on for many years.

Although Western powers so far have refrained from suggesting an intention to arm Syria's dissidents, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have urged such action.

Instead of weapons, Western countries and Turkey are seeking to set up a fund through which to provide nonmilitary aid to the rebels.

However, Lavrov also criticized as unhelpful the recent Friends of the Syrian People” meetings in Istanbul, saying the discussions over arms and possible additional sanctions on the Assad regime. 

All that would undermine efforts to end violence, the Russian minister said in Azerbaijan's captial, Baku. They want to solve the Syrian problem with the opposition only, but it's impossible to settle the situation like that. There must be a dialogue of all the parties involved.

Lavrov said Russia, too, will meet for talks with Syrian opposition leaders in the coming days.

The Russians have endorsed a six-point peace plan for Syria proposed by Kofi Annan, a special envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League. The plan includes an April 10 deadline for Syrian soldiers to withdraw from besieged cities.

China, another Assad ally, also supports the Annan proposal.

For the Arab states in the Gulf, there is a religious dimension to the conflict in Syria – Sunni-ruled nations such as Saudi Arabia are seeking to help the Sunni Muslim majority of Syria who are under brutal assault by the ruling Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Iran, which supports Syria, is also dominated by Shiites.

Despite all the talk back and forth between foreign powers and statements from Assad that he will honor the ceas-efire deadline, the violence continues in Syria.

Rami Abdul Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group told Agence France-Presse: “Tanks are still shelling or storming towns and villages before going back to their bases. ... That does not mean they are withdrawing.”

At least 58 civilians were killed Tuesday during clashes in the northern province of Idlib, the rights group said, while 18 government soldiers died in Homs, Idlib and Deraa provinces.