AMMAN: Russia said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad presented reform plans on Tuesday to help end the blood-shed in Syria, but Western and Arab states acted to isolate Assad further as his forces resumed bombarding the protest hotbed of Homs.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks with Assad in Damascus on a solution to the crisis palatable to Moscow, a longtime ally of Assad, after it vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that backed an Arab League call for his ouster.
But the Russian mediation failed to slow a rush by countries that denounced the Russian-Chinese veto three days ago to corner Syria diplomatically and cripple Assad with sanctions in hopes of removing him and encouraging reforms to avert chaos in a region straddling major fault lines of Middle East conflict.
Opposition activists said government forces renewed shelling of the central city of Homs on Tuesday just before Lavrov's arrival, killing some 19 people in an onslaught that they say has claimed over 300 lives in the last five days.
There were also reports from residents of shelling and fighting on Tuesday between government and rebel forces in Hama, another urban stronghold of anti-Assad sentiment.
Syria says Homs - the heart of 11 months of protest against Assad's rule, parts of which are held by insurgents including army defectors - is the site of a running battle with "terrorists" directed and funded from abroad.
Its references to foreign interference are widely read to include Gulf Arab states, which followed the lead of Washington and European Union countries on Tuesday in reducing their diplomatic presence in Damascus.
Russian media quoted Lavrov as saying Assad had assured him he wanted an end to violence by both sides and an expanded Arab League monitoring mission, and that a referendum would be held on a new draft constitution, followed by free elections.
"President Assad informed (me) that he will meet in the coming days with the commission that prepared a draft of the new constitution," state-run Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.
"The work is finished, and now a date will be announced for a referendum on this important document for Syria."
Copyright Reuters, 2012