Russia's foreign ministry says it is encouraging the Syrian government to "fully cooperate" with Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy attempting to find a settlement to the year-long bloodshed in the country.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday he also expects Western governments to urge the Syrian opposition to cooperate with the mediation efforts of the former U.N. chief.
Annan is set to deliver a video briefing to the U.N. Security Council on Friday in what Western diplomats hope will accelerate efforts to pass a resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's bloody crackdown on dissent. Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions condemning Syria.
Annan met with Assad last Saturday and Sunday in Syria, where he outlined proposals to end the fighting, provide humanitarian aid, and begin political dialogue. Annan says he is still in contact with Syrian leaders, but says he would like a more detailed response to his proposals.
Turkey urged its citizens Friday to leave Syria due to "serious security risks." Also, the Turkish government is considering setting up a buffer zone along its border with Syria.
Violence continued to escalate on Thursday, the first anniversary of the anti-government uprising. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 bodies were dumped in Idlib, where government forces have launched their most recent offensive against rebels. State media said troops had cleared "armed terrorists" from the northwestern city.
Rebel fighters have been in retreat throughout Syria and a movement of opposition activists has been fragmented with dissent. But Western governments have been reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition out of fear the situation could be further enflamed.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used Thursday's anniversary to report that "well over 8,000 people" have died in the 12 months of protests. Ban's spokesman blamed the violence on the Syrian government's decision "to choose violent repression over peaceful political dialogue."
The U.N. says a Syrian government-led mission will visit several besieged cities in the coming days to assess humanitarian needs. The team, which includes members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, will visit Daraa, Homs, Hama and other cities.
Early Friday, the Gulf Cooperation Council announced its six member states would close their Damascus embassies in protest of the continued violence. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had already withdrawn their ambassadors to Syria last month.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
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