Middle East

Russia urged to get tough on Syria

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Media captionRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: "We are not violating any international agreements"

Russia is facing increased pressure to harden its approach to Syria, with a number of countries warning of a descent into civil war.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned Moscow it risks losing influence in the Middle East if it does not act more constructively.

France wants a UN peace plan brokered by mediator Kofi Annan to be enforced.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has insisted Moscow will not sanction the use of force.

China is also unlikely to back such a move in the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, the Syrian government has been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in a new report by the human rights group, Amnesty International.

'Escalating violence'

Mr Lavrov, who is due to meet UK Foreign Secretary William Hague in Afghanistan on Thursday, has rejected any push for the Annan plan to be enforced under the Chapter Seven provision of the UN charter.

On Wednesday, he told reporters in Tehran that Russia could not disregard what had happened in Libya after the UN charter had been invoked and Nato had "ignored" UN resolutions.

A mistranslation of his remarks threatened to intensify a diplomatic row between Russia and the US on Wednesday, after Iranian media quoted Mr Lavrov as saying that the Americans had provided arms to Syria's rebels. Russia's foreign ministry later pointed out that he had been speaking about US weapons supplies "to the region".

Mrs Clinton has already accused Moscow of sending attack helicopters to Damascus and has urged it to "cut these military ties completely".

Her accusations have been met with outrage by Mr Lavrov, who said his government was completing earlier lawful weapons contracts with Syria for anti-aircraft air defence - not, he added, for use "against peaceful demonstrators... unlike the US, who regularly supply such weapons to the region".

While calling on Moscow to cut its military ties with Damascus, the US secretary of state said that attempts by the US and Russia in recent years to "reset" their relations had been quite constructive. However, she said, they disagreed on Syria.

"It's not the only issue we disagree on, but it is one where people are being killed every single day, where violence is escalating," she said.

Mrs Clinton said the situation was "spiralling toward civil war", stopping short of the earlier remarks of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius who said that Syria was already in civil war.

The bloodshed has continued in Syria with at least 40 people killed by security forces on Wednesday, according to opposition activists. The government said it had buried 27 military personnel who had been killed in the violence.

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Media captionUS Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "The US has provided no military supplies to the Syrian opposition"

Further condemnation of the actions of the Syrian government has come in a report by human rights group Amnesty International which calls on the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, in a new report entitled Deadly Reprisals.

According to the London-based group, civilians, including children, have been attacked by the security forces and militia members. It speaks of grave abuses in towns and villages around Aleppo and Idlib.

It said its information was based on more than 200 interviews in 23 Syrian towns and villages.

The vast majority of abuses were committed by government forces and their allies, Amnesty said, although it said there were incidents of rebels kidnapping and killing captured soldiers and pro-government miliitia.

The UN says that at least 10,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

Syria says it is fighting foreign-backed "terrorists" whom it blames for killing hundreds of soldiers and police.

International media cannot report freely in Syria and it is impossible to verify reports of violence.