Russia’s top diplomat predicted on Tuesday that the spiraling violence in Syria could ignite tensions across the Middle East.
“It is vital to look at the situation in Syria, as events taking place there have already had an effect in Lebanon and are likely to have a negative influence on other parts of the region,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists.
At least two people were killed earlier this month in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli during clashes between Sunni Muslims and members of the Alawite minority faith, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Sunni Muslims in the city support the revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is an Alawite.
“We all need to demonstrate the maximum vigilance and not pour oil on the fire – we need to try to extinguish it and sit the sides down at the negotiation table,” Lavrov added.
His comments came a day after Russia called for an investigation into this weekend’s massacre in the western Syrian town of Houla, where over 100 people were killed in what the United Nations says was an “outrageous use of force” by government troops.
Lavrov said on Monday that there was “no doubt” the Syrian authorities had used tanks and artillery to attack the town, near the former rebel stronghold of Homs, but that the Kremlin did not rule out that rebels were also involved.
Russian deputy UN ambassador Alexander Pankin told journalists after the massacre that Moscow the killings may have been a “provocation” carried out by rebel forces ahead of the visit by UN peace envoy Kofi Annan to Syria.
And on Tuesday, Lavrov said that “certain countries” were attempting to use the deaths in Houla as a “pretext” for the start of a military operation against Assad’s forces, which have been armed in part by Russia.
Lavrov also accused the head of the foreign-based opposition Syrian National Council of attempting to “incite a civil war” in the Middle East country.
“We were shocked by the recent public statement by Syrian National Council head Burhan Galioun, who urged Syrian opposition forces to continue the fight for liberation until the UN Security Council gives the green light to military intervention,” Lavrov said.
Moscow has consistently accused the West of using the current crisis to seek regime change in Damascus and the Kremlin has vetoed UN resolutions against its ally Syria over what it says is a pro-rebel bias. Russia has continued to arm Syria throughout the anti-Assad revolt, but says its deliveries have been in total compliance with international law.
Over 10,000 people have been killed in clashes between the government and opposition forces in Syria since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, according to UN estimates.