VOA News
June 4, 2012

Diplomacy again stalled on Syria as clashes continued Monday, with rights groups saying dozens of people were killed in the latest battles between Syrian government forces and rebels.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports more than 75 government soldiers were killed over the last few days as rebels intensified attacks on government checkpoints. Syrian state media have not acknowledged the casualties and there is no independent confirmation.

New clashes erupted in Idlib province late on Sunday and carried into Monday, killing at least two rebel fighters. The opposition Syrian National Council reported that government forces were using tanks, rocket launchers and artillery to repel rebels.

As the attacks continued, a European Union summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to resolve differences in how to deal with Syria’s 15-month long conflict.

Speaking at the end of the summit in St. Petersburg, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the Russian leader and the 27-nation bloc have “some divergent assessments” about Syria.

In a joint news conference with Putin, Van Rompuy said both sides need to work together to achieve an immediate stop to Syria’s violence and launch a process of political transition in the country, led for 11 years by President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia and the West have long disagreed about which side of the Syrian conflict should do more to end the violence. Russia says Assad and the rebels trying to oust him have an equal obligation to stop fighting, while Western powers say the Syrian president should act first by ending his deadly crackdown on dissent.

Moscow also has rejected Western calls for Assad to step down, saying the political future of its longtime ally should be for Syrians to decide through peaceful means.

Van Rompuy said Russia and the EU agree that international peace envoy Kofi Annan’s plan “provides the best opportunity” to avoid a civil war in Syria and find a peaceful solution.

But Western powers have acknowledged that Annan’s plan is faltering as Syrian government and rebel forces engage in daily battles, ignoring the plan’s call for a cease-fire that was supposed to take effect in April.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday she told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the focus of international diplomacy on Syria is shifting to a political transition rather than negotiations with Assad’s government.

Speaking before a visit to Armenia on Monday, Clinton said Assad’s “departure does not have to be a precondition” to a resolution of the conflict, but added that “it should be an outcome.”

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