Russia, China mull Arab League's Syria proposal

In this citizen journalism image provide by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, an anti-Syrian regime man reacts in front of flames which rise from a burning shop damaged by Syrian government forces shelling, in Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs province, central Syria, on Sunday Feb. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Local Coordination Committees in Syria)

Russia's foreign minister said Monday his country would study an Arab League proposal for a joint peacekeeping mission in Syria with the United Nations, while China refused to give a clear position on the proposal.

Russia's Sergey Lavrov said Monday that a cease-fire would have to be declared before any such mission could be deployed.

"We should first have peace, which would be supported," Lavrov said at a news conference in Moscow with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

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Meanwhile, China refused to say if it backs the Arab League call for a joint peacekeeping force - the latest bid to end the violence that has killed more than 5,400 people there.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin refused to directly answer repeated questions on whether it would support the league's call. He said China backs the Arab League's "political mediation efforts."

He reiterated China's stance that it wanted to see Syrian authorities and opposition forces "properly solve their disputes through dialogue."

China along with Russia upset the United States, Europe and much of the Arab world a little more than a week ago when they vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have pressured Syria's President Bashar Assad to step down.

Syria has already rejected the call adopted Sunday at a meeting in Cairo by foreign ministers from the 22-nation Arab League.

The league has been pushing regional efforts to end 11 months of bloodshed in Syria. It called for the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution that provides for an immediate cease-fire in Syria, the protection of civilians and overseeing a humanitarian effort for victims of the violence. It demanded that regime forces lift the siege on neighborhoods and villages and pull troops and their heavy weapons back to their barracks.

It urged Syrian opposition groups to unite ahead of a Feb. 24 meeting in Tunisia of the "Friends of Syria" group, which includes the United States, its European allies and Arab nations working to end the uprising against Assad's authoritarian rule.

The group was created after last weekend's veto of a Western and Arab draft resolution that would have pressured Assad to step down. That resolution also would have demanded that Assad halt the crackdown on dissent and implement the Arab League peace plan that calls for him to hand over power to his vice president and allow creation of a unity government to clear the way for elections.

Assad's regime has pursued a harsh crackdown against the uprising since it began last March. More than 5,400 people have been killed, according to a U.N. estimate in January. That figure has not been updated because the chaos in Syria has made it all but impossible to do so, and hundreds have been reported killed since.

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