By Carla Babb
A senior Russian defense official said Moscow will no longer sell any weapons to Syria until the situation there calms down, as a Syrian activist group said the death toll from the Syrian conflict has surpassed 17,000.
Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, the deputy chief of the Russian military and technical cooperation agency, said Monday that Russia will not sign any more arms deals, deliver any more weapons or ship any spare parts for weapons delivered earlier.
The United States and other world leaders have pushed Russia to stop helping Damascus crackdown on the opposition there.
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said the Syrian government and the opposition groups should be forced to enter negotiations.
“I am convinced that we must do everything possible to force the conflicting sides to find a peaceful political solution to all the disputed issues,” Putin told a group of Russian and foreign diplomats in televised remarks.
His comments came hours after his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, met with a senior Syrian opposition leader, Michel Kilo, in Moscow.
Heavy toll of conflict
Russia’s announcement that it will no longer send weapons to Syria comes as the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 17,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict since it began in March of last year.
Rami Abdelrahman said Monday that 31 died across Syria, including 11 Syrian army troops and 20 civilians and rebels.
He said there was heavy fighting and army shelling in the provinces of Homs, Idlib, Daraa and Deir Ezzor, and near Damascus.
“There is fighting everyday. It doesn’t ever stop,” Abdelrahman said.
Meanwhile, the U.N.’s special envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Monday before traveling to Iran. The U.N. diplomat called the talks “constructive and candid.”
“We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so,” Annan told reporters. “We agreed on an approach which I will share with the armed opposition.”
Annan has been trying for months to implement a peace plan in Syria, but has admitted that the efforts have failed.
In an interview with German television broadcast Sunday, Syrian President Assad accused the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar of hindering peace and supporting what he called “terrorists.”
The United Nations wants independent investigators to probe Assad’s charges that terrorists, and not the government, are responsible for the violence.