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Russia, China urge talks to solve Syria crisis as pressure mounts on Assad
BEIRUT (AP) ' Syrian allies China and Russia expressed serious concern Thursday over the spiraling crisis in Syria and called for immediate talks as pressure mounted on President Bashar Assad to end the deadly crackdown on dissent.
Assad is facing severe international isolation stemming from his crackdown on an 8-month-old uprising, which the U.N. estimates has killed 3,500 people. The Arab League suspended Damascus on Wednesday and threatened economic sanctions if the violence continues.
China and Russia have kept up their long-standing ties with Damascus, however. In October they vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that threatened sanctions against Syria.
But on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin appeared to suggest China might support a resolution in the future.
"It depends on whether these actions will help to resolve the tensions in Syria and facilitate the resolution of disputes through political dialogue," he said.
He called on both sides in the conflict to work together.
Later in the day, Russia urged Syria and the opposition to start talks.
"We think that it is necessary to start talks on the peaceful settlement in Syria by all parties," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. He said the talks should be held at Arab League headquarters in Cairo.
Still, the crisis appears to be spiraling out Assad's control as attacks by army defectors increase and world leaders look at possibilities for a Syrian regime without him.
Germany, Britain and France are pressing for a U.N. resolution that would strongly condemn Syria's human rights violations. The three European countries decided to move ahead with the General Assembly resolution after the Arab League confirmed its suspension.
"We hope it will show Assad just how isolated he is," Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said of the resolution.
The growing calls for Assad's ouster are a severe blow to a family dynasty that has ruled Syria for four decades ' and any change to the leadership could transform some of the most enduring alliances in the Middle East and beyond.
Syria's tie to Iran is among the most important relationships in the Middle East, providing the Iranians with a foothold on Israel's border and a critical conduit to Tehran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza.
Associated Press writer Alexa Olesen in Beijing contributed to this report.