Deadly violence raged across Syria on Thursday with a twin bombing in Damascus two days before a crucial international meeting that looked threatened late in the day by Russian objections.
Turkey reinforced its volatile border with Syria with missile batteries, as world powers prepared for talks in Geneva on ways to end the raging conflict and to discuss a plan by UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan for an interim government.
However, Annan was battling to save the meeting following Russian objections to his proposed transition plan, diplomats said at the UN.
Violence on Thursday killed at least 91 people, including 59 civilians, after one of the bloodiest days of the 15-month revolt left at least 149 dead on Wednesday, a watchdog said.
Thursday’s heaviest toll was in the northern Damascus suburb of Douma, where 30 people were killed, among them five members of one family, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The day’s fatalities also included 23 soldiers and nine rebels, the group said, adding that regime forces backed by helicopters pounded several areas of the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.
On the diplomatic front, Annan called for talks between senior officials from Russia, the US, France, Britain and China for yesterday in a bid to rescue the meeting of foreign ministers the next day, diplomats said.
A meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Saint Petersburg yesterday could also decide the fate of future international action on Syria.
Clinton and the foreign ministers of Britain and France, William Hague and Laurent Fabius, have told Annan there will be no point holding the Geneva meeting unless an accord on a transition plan can be guaranteed, diplomats said.
The Geneva conference with Clinton, Lavrov, Hague, Fabius, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) and the foreign ministers of Qatar, Turkey and Kuwait had been intended as a public show of support for Annan’s transition plan.
Annan announced the meeting on Tuesday, having said he would only call the ministers to Geneva if he were sure they would unite around a plan to end the worsening conflict that Syrian activists say has left more than 15,000 dead.
Russia, the last major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has objected to a proposal that could limit membership of a transitional unity government in Syria, diplomats said.
Annan’s plan said the interim government could include al-Assad officials and the opposition, “but would exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation.”
Diplomats have said this means that al-Assad could be ruled out of the government, but did not automatically exclude his participation. Opposition figures could also be kept out under the same formula, they said.
The meeting in Geneva, agreed only after wrangling between Moscow and Washington over the agenda and the guest list, was to be attended by some regional governments, but not Middle East heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Russia says Iran should be part of the solution to Syria’s conflict.
“Iran is an influential player in this situation and to leave it out of the Geneva meeting, I believe, is a mistake,” Lavrov said on Thursday.