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Russia tells NATO to stay away from Syria

Russia warns of provocations at Turkish-Syrian border

* Says NATO should not try to intervene in Syria over that

* Russia, West at loggerheads over Syria

By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW, Oct 2 (Reuters) – Russia told NATO and world powers on Tuesday they should not seek ways to intervene in Syria’s civil war or set up buffer zones between rebels and government forces.

Moscow further called for restraint between NATO-member Turkey and Syria, where violence along their shared border has strained relations between the former allies.

Tensions have flared since a mortar round fired from inside Syria struck the territory of Turkey. Ankara has threatened to respond if the strike were repeated.

When asked by Interfax if Moscow worried whether the tense border situation could prompt NATO to intervene to defend Turkey, its easternmost member, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov warned against any such step.

“In our contacts with partners in NATO and in the region, we are calling on them not to seek pretexts for carrying out a military scenario or to introduce initiatives such as humanitarian corridors or buffer zones.”

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, one of Assad’s most caustic critics, recently lashed out at Russia for blocking efforts at the U.N. Security Council to exert pressure on Assad and said Moscow’s stance allowed massacres in Syria to continue.

Turkey has floated the idea of setting up “safe zones” inside Syria to protect civilians from the conflict but that would also have to be approved by the Security Council.

Russia and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have blocked attempts to impose further sanctions on his government or intervene more directly in the conflict.

Ankara has repeatedly complained of artillery and gunfire spilling over the border into Turkey, leading to threats of retaliation.

“We believe both Syrian and Turkish authorities should exercise maximum restraint in this situation, taking into account the rising number of radicals among the Syrian opposition who can intentionally provoke conflicts on the border,” Gatilov was quoted as saying.

The West accuses Russia of supporting Assad in the bloody 18-month conflict and imposing a stalemate in the Security Council as violence in Syria has spiralled.

Moscow says Syrians themselves should decide their fate and says it will veto any Security Council resolution that could serve as a springboard for military intervention.

Russia accuses the West of overstepping its mandate when it set up a no-fly zone in Libya last year, leading to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi to a popular uprising and insurgency.

Western diplomats in Moscow say Russia seems to believe Assad may still successfully cling to power though they see Russia’s dialogue with some Syrian opposition groups as an attempt to secure its interests there if he were overthrown.

Assad orders 30,000 troops to Aleppo

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is visiting the city of Aleppo to take a first-hand look at the fighting between government forces and rebels and has ordered 30,000 more troops into the battle, a Lebanese paper says.

Al-Diyar newspaper, which is known for its pro-Assad stance, said the president had flown by helicopter at dawn (Tuesday, local time) from the presidential palace in Damascus to Aleppo.

It did not specify what day the trip started but said that Assad was still in Aleppo. The visit was decided on after reports that the situation in the city, Syria’s largest and its commercial centre, had become very serious.

“President Assad ordered units 5 and 6, estimated to be 30,000 soldiers and 2000 personnel carriers, to move from Hama to Aleppo and to attack any occupied areas of Aleppo province from the Turkish border,” it said.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the report. An employee of al-Diyar told Reuters it had a correspondent in the city. Syrian state media made no mention of any visit.

Rebels mounted a new offensive last week to seize the city, which was until July firmly under Assad’s control. They claim to hold most of the Old City but are struggling to hang on to their positions in the face of heavy artillery fire.

The rebel forces are in the east and Assad’s forces in the west of Aleppo. Fires started by the combat have gutted the historic market in the Old City, a world heritage site.

Opposition activists say 30,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old anti-Assad uprising, which has grown into a full-scale civil war.

For much of the revolt, Assad retained a grip on Aleppo. Many rich merchants and minority groups, fearful of instability, chose to stay neutral while pro-democracy protests spread.

Syrian authorities have painted the uprising as a foreign-backed “terrorist” conspiracy.

The paper said that Assad gave orders that Aleppo must be “cleansed” during the visit.

Iran’s Ahmadinejad says Syria crisis may engulf region

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday warned that hostilities in Syria could engulf the region and accused some Syrians of trying to use their country’s conflict to settle scores with Tehran.

In comments to Al Jazeera television, Ahmadinejad said that a national dialogue and new elections – rather than war – were the only way to solve the Syrian crisis, saying the Syrian people should choose their own path.

“There is another way to find a solution, it is national, mutual understanding in order for there to be elections in the future,” he said.

The interview was translated from Persian into Arabic by Al Jazeera. He made similar remarks at a news conference in Tehran.

“We don’t say what they should do. We help them sit down and reach a mutual understanding … We don’t say who should go and who should stay, this would be interfering in countries’ affairs. But we say it is people’s right to choose,” he told the news conference.

Every world power involved in the Syrian crisis “had (made) its own mistakes,” he said, warning that the Syrian conflict would spread to other countries in the region if it was left unsolved.

“Tomorrow, the atmosphere in Jordan may be like what Syria is experiencing. Thus, we must search for a practical and good solution for all the people’s of the area, otherwise catastrophes will fall upon us all.”

Iran is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been battling an uprising against his rule. Opposition activists say 30,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old revolt, which has grown into a full-scale civil war.

Ahmadinejad suggested the Syrian crisis was being used to try to undermine Iran.

“All the Syrian people are respectable, but some want to settle accounts with Iran,” he said.

Iran has been hit by international sanctions over its disputed nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

Tehran is also at odds with Gulf Arab states that are backing Syrian rebels seeking to topple Assad and who accuse Tehran of fomenting unrest among Shi’ite Muslim communities in their countries.

Washington and its Gulf Arab allies resisted attempts by former U.N. and Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan to involve Iran in diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syria crisis, saying Tehran was part of the problem.

Ahmadinejad said he feared that calls for military intervention in Syria were growing.

“I have opposed war, but those who want things to be settled through dialogue are a minority and perhaps the majority are in favor of going ahead in the context of war,” he said.

Iran had long enjoyed good relations with Syria, he added, conceding that Iran may have given “advice” to Damascus in the past. But he appeared to skirt the question of whether Tehran supplies arms to Syria.

“Let’s assume that we supplied the Syrian side with weapons, would the problems be resolved? Is the regime going to sit there forever?” he said.

(Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky in Abu Dhabi and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian in Zurich; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Osborn)

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