GENEVA: Russia and Western powers locked horns over a peace plan for Syria on Saturday as U.N. mediator Kofi Annan warned the conflict could spread across the Middle East and beyond.
Foreign ministers and international diplomats were meeting in Geneva with governments still in dispute over whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, condemned in the West but still
backed by Russia, could have any role in a political transition.
"The Russians have set out a series of objections with the current draft. The Russians are stonewalling quite a bit," a Western diplomat told Reuters as the talks paused for lunch.
"A redraft of the text is looking likely," she said, referring to Annan's draft proposal.
Annan, the former U.N. chief and the special international envoy on Syria, is hoping the meeting can salvage his plan for a unity government that would exclude controversial figures from
leadership - effectively meaning Assad would step down.
"We are here to agree on guidelines and principles for a Syrian-led political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," he said in opening remarks.
"No one should be in any doubt as to the extreme dangers posed by the conflict - to Syrians, to the region, and to the world."
His plan for a negotiated solution to the 16-month-old conflcit is the only one on the table and its failure would doom Syria to even more violence. More than 10,000 people have been
killed since the anti-Assad uprising broke out and the past few weeks have been among the bloodiest.
Moscow objects to any solution imposed on Syria from outside. The United States and its European and Arab allies see no way ahead while power remains in Assad's hands.
With the wrangling extending the talks beyond their schedule, a report from Russia's Interfax news agency said Russia would propose a new international meeting on the crisis and that Syria should be represented.
"The Russian side will propose to hold such a meeting in Moscow. Syrians themselves should take part in the meeting," it quoted an unidentified source as saying.
Highlighting the deteriorating situation on the ground, Syrian government forces pushed their way into Douma on the outskirts of Damascus on Saturday after weeks of siege and
shelling. Fleeing residents spoke of corpses lying in the streets.
Britain's ITV showed footage of clouds of black smoke over built-up areas and said war planes had struck at targets in the suburb.
The army also attacked pro-opposition areas in Deir al-Zor, Homs, Idlib and the outskirts of Damascus, opposition activists said. AGENCIES