WRAPUP 2-Kuwait to host Syria crisis meeting, envoy meets Assad

Erika Solomon
Reuters Middle East

* Opposition increasingly frustrated with diplomacy

* UN envoy meets Assad as conditions worsen around Damascus

* Russia says Syria securing chemical weapons

* Unconfirmed activist reports of poison gas use in Homs

BEIRUT, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Kuwait will host an international

conference next month to tackle Syria's humanitarian crisis, the

ruling emir said on Monday, as foes of President Bashar al-Assad

voiced frustration with international efforts to end the civil


In Damascus, special international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met

Assad but the Syrian opposition vented its anger at what it

called a "silence" over the unabated killing of civilians by

government forces, most recently in the central town of Halfaya.

Assad is under growing pressure from rebel forces in the

21-month-old war that activists say has killed more than 44,000

people. However, diesel from his main international ally,

Russia, has arrived in Syria, providing the first significant

amounts of the fuel in months to power industry and the

military, generate electricity and heat homes during the winter.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said he did not

believe Assad's government would use chemical weapons, in

remarks broadcast shortly after activists released reports of

what they said was a poison gas attack in the city of Homs.

Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al Sabah, said the

conference for Syrian donors would be held in late January in

response to an invitation by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"The Syrian wound is still bleeding, and the killing machine

still continues, killing dozens of our brothers in Syria each

day," the emir told a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in


Last week, the United Nations appealed for $1.5 billion to

help save the lives of millions of Syrians suffering a

"dramatically deteriorating" humanitarian situation. The appeals

are to help 4 million people within Syria and up to 1 million

Syrian refugees in five other countries until next July.

Underlining how rebels are taking the battle close to

Assad's doorstep, U.N. and Arab League envoy Brahimi had to

drive overland to Damascus from Lebanon on the eve of his

meeting with the president because fighting around the

international airport has made it impossible to fly in.

Brahimi said his talks with Assad had dealt with possible

solutions to a crisis. "I told him what I was seeing abroad and

about the meetings I had with different officials in the region

and abroad," he told reporters. "The situation in Syria still is

a reason for worry. We hope that all the sides work toward the

solution, as the Syrian people want."


Syria's opposition fumed at what it called silence over the

unrelated killing of civilians by Assad's forces. On Sunday,

dozens were killed in Halfaya and many more wounded. Activists

blamed an air strike on a bakery where a crowd was queuing in

the town, which was seized by insurgents last week.

"Silence over the massacres committed against the Syrian

people is blackmail and a means to pressure the people, their

revolution, and their leaders," said Moaz Alkhatib, who heads

the opposition National Coalition.

However, Alkhatib did not accuse anybody directly for

remaining mum over what would be one of the deadliest air

strikes of the civil war.

Activists also said rebels in central Hama province shot

down a government fighter jet on Monday during clashes outside a

village loyal to Assad. Rebels have captured a string of

military compounds around the country. Damascus is now being

dragged into the conflict, with fighting in its southern

districts and the suburbs on its eastern outskirts.

Brahimi's plan for an end to the Syrian crisis centres on a

transitional government, but has left vague Assad's role. The

opposition rejects anything but Assad's overthrow and says the

government crackdown has been too fierce to accept dialogue.


With rebel gains growing, the army has been increasingly

relying on its superior weaponry. It has used air strikes and

even long range, Scud-type missiles, according to U.S. and NATO


Western powers have warned Assad that using chemical weapons

would be a "red line", which they implied would draw

international involvement in the conflict. Syria repeated on

Sunday that it would never use chemical weapons against its


In Moscow, Foreign Minister Lavrov told the Russia Today

(RT) television channel that recent signs that parts of Syria's

chemical arsenal were being moved - a development that alarmed

Western governments - was an effort by the government to make

the weapons more secure.

"Our information is ... that the latest reports about some

movement of the chemical weapons was related to steps undertaken

by the government to concentrate the chemical stuff ... at two

sites, to make sure it is absolutely protected," he said.

This correlated with information the Americans had, he said.

The activists' reports of what they said was a poison gas

attack in Homs could not be confirmed, as the government

restricts media access in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gathered activist

accounts of the incident, which said that six rebel fighters

were killed after inhaling smoke on the front line of Homs's

urban battleground.

The Observatory, a British-based group with a network of

activists across the country, called on the International

Committee of the Red Cross to send a medical team to the area to

determine what had happened.


An Italian shipowner said two cargoes of Russian diesel had

reached the Syrian port of Banias this month. It was unclear who

was behind the shipments and there was no evidence they violated

international sanctions against Syria.

"(Our vessels) loaded two cargoes of gasoil in Russia at the

beginning of December for delivery to the East Mediterranean.

The charterer then asked us to deliver the volumes to Banias,"

said Paolo Cagnoni, who heads Mediterranea di Navigazione

S.p.A., the family-run Italian tanker firm.

He declined to disclose the names of the vessel charterers

and the recipient of the deliveries, which amount to around

42,000 tonnes of gasoil worth close to $40 million at current

market prices.

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