Both parties guilty in Houla massacre – Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says some political players are undermining the UN-brokered ceasefire in Syria. He also says both opposition groups and regime troops “had a hand” in the Houla massacre.

“It is clear that both sides had a hand in the Houla incident that left civilians dead, including women and children,” he said following bilateral talks with his British counterpart William Hague.

He went on to state that artillery and tank shells were found in Houla and that many of the bodies showed evidence of a violent death, including some that had been shot in the head at close-range.

He said that the area was controlled by militants but there was a strong presence of government troops there.

William Hague accepted that while the Assad regime bears the brunt of the blame for violence in the country, it is not wholly responsible. Previously he had stated there were “credible and horrific reports that a large number of civilians have been massacred at the hands of Syrian forces in the town of Houla.”

During the press conference with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, Lavrov stated that talk of the removal of Assad’s regime threatens the implementation of the UN peace plan. He expressed “deep concern” that the UN-Arab League initiative “is being fulfilled unsatisfactorily,” but emphasized regime change was not the answer.

“When some countries, particularly those closest to Syria suggest the only solution to the conflict is regime change, it makes me doubt their commitment to the ceasefire,” said Lavrov.

Hague said if the UN peace plan is not upheld, the only alternative for Syria will be civil war.

He went on to say that pressure should be put on the regime and the Syrian opposition to comply with Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan.

“We are not concerned with who is in power in Syria, our current aim is to bring an end to the violence and loss of life… everything else is secondary,” stressed Lavrov.

William Hague said that Russia and the UK would ratchet up their efforts to ensure Assad complies with the peace plan.

"The Annan plan is the best hope for Syria, at the moment the only hope for Syria, to try and break the cycle of violence,” said Hague.

However, in order for negotiations to progress Hague stated “there needs to be a fundamental change in the approach of the Assad regime if Syria is to be saved from ever greater chaos and disorder."

The UN Security Council issued a statement on Sunday condemning the massacre in the Damascus suburb of Houla, but did not lay the blame the feet of the regime or the opposition. The emergency meeting was called by Russia.

The Syrian government has categorically denied that government troops were involved in the Houla massacre and has laid the blame at the feet of terrorist groups operating in the area.

Anti-government uprisings have raged in Syria for almost 14 months, becoming increasingly bloody and militarized.

The UN estimates that the conflict has claimed over 9,000 lives. The organization currently has over 100 monitors stationed in Syria.