MOSCOW (Reuters) - Syria’s information minister has blamed Turkey’s government for deadly car bombings near the Syrian border and branded Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan a “murderer”, state-run Russian TV company RT reported on Monday.
The bombings took place as prospects appeared to improve for diplomacy to try to end the war in Syria, after Moscow and Washington announced a joint effort to bring government and rebels to an international conference as soon as possible.
“All responsibility for what has happened lies with the Turkish government and Erdogan personally,” RT quoted Omran Zubi as saying in an interview with its Arabic-language channel.
“I demand his resignation as a murderer and an executioner. He has no right to build a political career on the blood of the Turkish and Syrian people,” RT quoted Zubi as saying.
It said he repeated a denial of Syrian involvement in car bombings that killed 46 people on Saturday in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli. Turkey has accused a group with links to Syrian intelligence of carrying out the attacks.
The car bombs increased fears that Syria’s civil war, in which a Syrian opposition group says more than 82,000 people have been killed since it began with a government crackdown on protests in March 2011, is dragging in neighbouring states.
The U.S.-Russian peace initiative, which followed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, has touched off a flurry of diplomacy.
The Kremlin said Putin would discuss Syria and other issues with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Russia on Tuesday. An Israeli official confirmed Netanyahu’s trip.
Israel has asked Russia not to sell Syria an advanced air defence system, the S-300, which would help President Bashar al-Assad fend off any foreign military intervention, though the United States and NATO have shown little appetite for that.
Russia vehemently opposes military intervention in Syria and criticised Israeli air strikes this month that Israeli sources say were aimed solely at preventing advanced weaponry getting to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, an Assad ally, in Lebanon.
Russia, a traditional arms supplier to Damascus, says it is fulfilling longstanding contracts for air defence weaponry but has not specified whether it would supply Syria with the S-300.
A Russian official said Lavrov would meet Kerry again on the sidelines of an Arctic forum in Sweden this week.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had been heartened that talks he held with Putin on Friday showed “a recognition that it would be in all our interests to secure a safe and secure Syria with a democratic and pluralistic future and end the regional instability”.
Russia has been Assad’s strongest protector in the conflict, opposing U.N. sanctions and, along with China, blocking three Western-backed Security Council resolutions on Syria.
Russia has agreed with Western powers that Syria needs a transitional government. It says it is not trying to prop up Assad but that his exit must not be a precondition for talks.
A Western official, who asked not to be identified, voiced scepticism that the conference that Moscow and Washington are trying to convene in Geneva would actually materialise, saying the question of Assad’s role remained a stumbling block.
Syrian opposition groups have rejected any formula under which Assad would stay in power. A Western-backed opposition coalition plans to meet in Istanbul on May 23 to decide whether to join the conference proposed by Moscow and Washington.
The Western official also ruled out Iranian participation in any peace talks, even though Iran, as Assad’s closest regional ally, plays a significant role in the conflict.
“Iran cannot be part of it because it always tries to mix the Syria debate with the nuclear issue,” the official said.
Britain and France, while backing the U.S.-Russian proposal, have also pressed the European Union to lift or modify its arms embargo on Syria to allow some weapons to be supplied to rebels.
Cameron will push for ways to strengthen Syrian opposition forces as a way of ramping up pressure on Assad when he meets U.S. President Barack Obama later on Monday.
“The prime minister is keen to discuss with President Obama how we can both help together to establish a stronger and more credible opposition both politically and operationally inside Syria,” Cameron’s spokesman said.
The EU arms embargo is part of a package of sanctions against Syria that expires at the end of May. All 27 EU member states must agree to any revisions for the sanctions to be renewed.
Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Mohammed Abbas in London; Editing by Alistair Lyon