Sergey Lavrov

MOSCOW — Russia said Monday that Syria’s government and rebels should halt their fighting once a day to give the Red Cross access to the wounded and that jailed protesters should be allowed to have visitors.

The call from Russia, an important ally of Syria’s, came after its officials met with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had urged Moscow to take such a stand.

Russia had previously backed the ICRC’s call for a cease-fire, but Monday’s statement from the Foreign Ministry was worded more strongly than the previous ones, in an apparent signal that Moscow is raising the pressure on Syria.

The statement followed Moscow’s talks between ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov focusing on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it agrees with the ICRC about what is needed during Syria’s uprising. ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad Mardini welcomed Moscow’s response, saying his organization “received positive indications of support on its operational priorities and on its call for a two-hour cessation in fighting on a daily basis.”

The Red Cross has not received permission from Syria to access all parts of the country affected by the fighting. Damascus also has not agreed to daily cease-fires.

Mardini said the meeting with Lavrov was part of contacts “with all those who could have a positive influence on its action in Syria,” adding that the Red Cross hopes to “see concrete results of such meetings on the ground in the coming days or weeks.”

“Our main interlocutors remain the Syrian authorities and the Syrian opposition,” she added.

Russia and China have protected Syria from United Nations sanctions over its crackdown on the uprising, in which more than 8,000 people have been killed. But Moscow recently has shown some signs that it was losing patience with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s harsh stance.

Lavrov told lawmakers last week that the Syrian leader has been slow to implement long-needed reforms, warning that the conflict in the Arab state could spiral out of control.

He also complained in a weekend interview with state television about the “unproportional” use of force by the government troops and said that Moscow disagrees with many of the decisions made by the Syrian leadership.

“We are supporting the need to start a political process, and to do that it’s necessary to have a cease-fire first,” Lavrov said. “Russia will do everything for that, irrespective of the decisions made by the Syrian government. We disagree with many of those, by the way.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: Russia presses Syrian daily truces to grant Red Cross access to aid

Anti-regime protesters chant slogans and flash the victory sign as they march during a demonstration Tuesday at the mountain resort town of Zabadani, Syria.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syria “absolutely rejects” any plans to send Arab troops into the country, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, even as the death toll mounts from 10 months of violent conflict.

Thousands of people have been killed in the regime’s crackdown on the anti-Assad revolt, which has turned increasingly militarized in recent months with a growing risk of civil war. The U.N. says about 400 people have been killed in the last three weeks, on top of an earlier estimate of more than 5,000 killed since March.

The leader of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, was quoted Sunday as saying Arab troops should be sent to Syria to stop the deadly violence — the first statements by an Arab leader calling for the deployment of troops inside Syria.

Qatar, which once had close relations with Damascus, has been a harsh critic of President Bashar Assad’s crackdown. The wealthy Gulf state withdrew its ambassador to Syria in the summer to protest the killings. Since the Arab Spring began more than a year ago, Qatar has taken an aggressive role, raising its influence in the region.

The government says terrorists are behind the uprising — not reform-seekers — and that armed gangs are acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country.

Syria’s powerful ally Russia said Wednesday it would block any attempt by the West to secure U.N. support for the use of force against the regime in Damascus, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia’s draft of a U.N. Security Council resolution on the violence in Syria that circulated Monday was aimed at making it explicitly clear that nothing could justify a foreign military interference.

The Security Council has been unable to agree on a resolution since the violence began in March because a strong opposition from Russia and China. In October, they vetoed a West European draft resolution, backed by the U.S., that condemned Assad’s attacks and threatened sanctions.

Lavrov said Russia would reject any attempts at securing a U.N. sanction for a military interference in Syrian affairs.

“If some intend to use force at all cost ... we can hardly prevent that from happening,” he said. “But let them do it at their own initiative on their own conscience, they won’t get any authorization from the U.N. Security Council.”

A recent visit by the commander of Iran’s elite Quds force to Damascus is the strongest sign yet that Iran is supplying weapons to aid Bashar Assad’s crackdown on the Syrian people, a senior Obama administration official said Tuesday.

While the U.S. has long believed Iran is helping drive the deadly crackdown on dissent in Syria, the official says the visit by Quds Force Commander Ghassem Soleimani provides a concrete example of direct high-level cooperation between Iran and Syria.

The administration’s assertion comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. Under the threat of increased U.S. sanctions, Iran has said it could block the strategic Strait of Hormuz; the Obama administration says it has warned Iran against taking such actions.

Iran has been Syria’s closest ally for decades, and the Islamic Republic has been a vocal supporter of Assad since the uprising against his regime began in March.