Syrian president Bashar Al Assad has agreed to step down as part of a political settlement to end nearly 18 months of an internal bloody conflict that has killed more than 20,000 people, Russia’s deputy foreign minister has said.
Mikhail Bogdanov also disclosed that Assad’s brother, Maher, lost both legs in last month’s explosion that killed several pro-Assad officials in Damascus. He said Maher’s condition is getting worse and he is battling for survival.
“Bashar Al Assad is ready to step down within a settlement in Syria…we do not want to be a biased party in the conflict…we encourage an immediate halt to hostilities by both parties….since last month’s blast that killed several military and security officials, the situation in Syria has seriously deteriorated,” Bogdanov told the Saudi Arabic language daily Alwatan.
He said Maher, who commands the 4th army division, Syria’s elite force, was present during last month’s meeting of top officials when the blast occurred and was later claimed by the Free Army, which is fighting to topple Assad’s regime.
“Maher was injured in the explosion…he lost both legs and his condition is getting worse…he is now battling for survival,” he said.
Bogdanov said Russia, accused of supporting Assad, wants a “quick” end to the conflict, adding that the Syrian government is cooperating with diplomatic efforts.
“What is more important now is for the opposition to put its arms down…we want to prevent a civil war which we see as very close now with the help of some countries in the region…we are the only party which still believes in a peaceful and political solution that involves power transition.”
Meanwhile, more than 23,000 people have been killed in violence in Syria since the outbreak of a revolt in March last year, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.
“As of August 13, 23,002 people were killed, including 16,142 civilians, 1,018 defectors and 5,842 soldiers,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that 2,409 people have been killed in the past 13 days alone.
The civilian toll includes those who have taken up arms against the regime.
The conflict became even bloodier after fierce fighting erupted in Damascus and Syria’s second city of Aleppo in July.
“The total count does not include the shabiha (pro-government militiamen), thousands of detainees whose fate is unknown, or those who have been killed but whose identities have not been verified,” Abdel Rahman added.
It is impossible to independently verify death counts out of Syria, and the UN has stopped keeping its own toll.