Syria on the brink of civil war, warns Russian senator

Syrian anti-government protesters taking part in a demonstration in Banias in northeastern Syria on April 22, 2011 (AFP Photo / STR)
According to Mikhail Margelov, Syria may experience an abrupt escalation of political tensions, which would have serious implications in the region, and most of all in Lebanon.

­"The latest events in Syria could grow into a civil war,” Margelov, the chairman of the Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee, told Interfax. “Hostilities waged on the territory of a leading state of the Arab world will have a negative impact on the situation in neighboring countries."

The senator then singled out Lebanon, which shares a long border with Syria, as well as a lengthy and turbulent history.

"This concerns primarily Lebanon, the society of which is increasingly sensitive to political changes in Syria,” said Margelov, who also serves as the Russian president's special envoy for Africa. “Beirut and Damascus trading accusations of ‘interference in internal affairs’ does not benefit stability in this district, either," he said.

Meanwhile, witnesses in Syria on Friday say authorities are boosting security ahead of planned protests that will present the biggest challenge to President Bashar Assad, part of a dynasty that has ruled the country for 40 years.

In an effort to avoid the fate of other usurped leaders in the region, President Bashar Assad, 46, has agreed to a series of concessions to appease the protesters, including the termination of the country's 50-year-old state of emergency, which permitted the police to arrest people without charge.

Observers, however, are of mixed opinion as to what will transpire next, as the Arabic country of some 22 million people is reeling in the aftermath of a brutal government crackdown, which activists say has left up to 200 people dead.

Margelov believes that Assad has taken the correct steps in returning his country to normality, but remains concerned over the “considerable” number of victims.

"Although the Syrian president has already taken the first steps in this direction, we cannot help but be concerned over the considerable number of victims as a result of the suppression of demonstrations and rallies," the Russian senator said.

Margelov also mentioned the UN tribunal that is investigating the murder of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, he said.

"Russia thinks that this tribunal is the sole international law institution possessing a mechanism of countering political assassinations. That is why we support the work of this body," Margelov said.

Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005 when a massive bomb exploded as his motorcade was making its way through the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Syria was initially accused of orchestrating the assassination, which prompted the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon following massive protests.

Syrian troops intervened in Lebanon in the course of a 15-year civil war (1975-1990) that displaced hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians and left up to 250,000 dead.

Margelov said Russia was interested in the inquiry into Hariri’s death as it would assist in the fight against political terrorism.

"Russia is pleased that the importance and objectivity of the collected evidence will be assessed within the UN,” the senator said. “Simultaneously, the Russian side cautions against the unacceptability of political terror…on the part of any organizations and countries. These methods of resolving internal problems must remain in the past."

Moscow is convinced that Lebanon's political forces will display discretion and stay calm when the international tribunal looking into Hariri's assassination announces its conclusions, he said.

"The aim of these conclusions is to help the Lebanese people preserve their unity for the sake of national stability," Margelov said.

Meanwhile, Russia says that it expects the United Nations to continue doing everything necessary to strengthen the international body’s role on the international arena, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a joint news conference with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is on a three-day trip to Moscow, where he is meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev.

"During the meeting we expressed the opinion that close, trust-based working contacts that have developed with the secretary general will continue and the secretary general will keep doing in the future all necessary to ensure a weighty role of the organization on the international arena," Lavrov said.

According to the Russian foreign minister, Medvedev strongly advocated the strengthening of the UN’s role in such issues as dealing with climate change, economic development, as well as overcoming the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis. 

"In conclusion, President Medvedev confirmed that we will continue supporting the UN in issues of ensuring international security, as well as in the strengthening of social and economic development, and…ensuring human rights and freedoms," the top Russian diplomat told reporters.

Robert Bridge, RT