President Assad has agreed to go, says Russian diplomat
Ambassador to France says Syrian leader has 'accepted' he must leave, but regime calls report 'baseless'
SYRIAN government officials have been forced to deny that President Bashar al-Assad is about to step down after the Russian ambassador to France said he had "accepted to leave".
Speaking on French radio station RFI today, Alexander Orlov said the embattled Bashar had agreed to go. "At the Geneva conference, there was a final communique that foresees a transition towards a more democratic system," he said.
"This final communique was accepted by Assad. Assad nominated his representative to lead the negotiations with the opposition for this transition. That means he accepted to leave, but in an orderly way."
Russia, along with China, blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for Assad to remove troops and heavy weapons from populated areas yesterday. Russia's support of the regime is seen as a key barrier to the international community imposing harsher sanctions on the regime.
Orlov's comments were immediately dismissed by the Syrian Information Ministry, Sky reports, which called the claims that Assad was leaving "baseless" and "completely devoid of truth".
President Assad is facing the most sustained onslaught by rebel forces since the Syrian uprising began in early 2011.
On Wednesday a bomb struck the heart of the regime in Damascus, killing four senior defence officials - intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar has now died of wounds, according to Hizbollah's Al Manar television - and plunging the city in fierce fighting.
Yesterday the Syrian Free Army took control of the Iraq border and two crossings into Turkey, a development that may trigger further senior government defections.
As the battle for Damascus intensifies, thousands of Syrians are fleeing the country. The UN said up to 30,000 people have fled to Lebanon in the past 48 hours and warned the total number of refugees fleeing the country could double to 185,000 by the end of the year. ·