Syria moves against rebels as Russia pledges support

Free Syria Army

Assad's regime sends tanks into eastern suburbs of Damascus as Arab League pushes for UN resolution

LAST UPDATED AT 11:54 ON Mon 30 Jan 2012

FORCES loyal to the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have retaken the rebellious eastern districts of Damascus that had temporarily come under the control of the Free Syria Army over the weekend. In what The Guardian describes as an "unprecedented operation", 2,000 troops and more than 50 tanks and armoured vehicles flooded the al-Ghouta area on the edge of the capital to restore order.

Violence across the troubled Middle East state prompted the Arab League to suspend their monitoring mission on Saturday. At least 100 people were killed on Saturday with a further 60 reported dead yesterday, including 26 soldiers and nine defectors.

As he watches his country descend into turmoil and anarchy, President Assad can at least take comfort from the continuing support that his regime is enjoying from their traditional allies in Russia, whose foreign minister Sergey Lavrov rebuffed the Arab League's demands for the Syrian strongman to stand down and a government of national unity to be formed.

Lavrov branded the Arab League's insistence that Assad hand over power to his deputy as "absolutely unforgiveable". He indicated that Russia might use its veto on the UN Security Council to block any moves to introduce a resolution that would enact the plan, which, as the New York Times reports, has the support of Western governments.

Foreign minister Lavrov also had harsh words for Syrian opposition figures. "We are trying to convince these forces that dialogue is the only path to normalisation,” the Russian told Japanese television. “Unfortunately, several of our partners in the UN Security Council have taken the opposite position and are persuading the opposition not to enter a dialogue with the authorities."

Meanwhile, there have been unconfirmed reports in the Jerusalem Post today that Assad's British-born wife Asma was prevented from leaving the country over the weekend after the convoy of cars she was in came under attack on the way to Damascus airport. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.