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Russia: We can do no more for Syria's Assad

MOSCOW - A top Kremlin aide said on Monday Moscow could do little more for Syrian President Bashar Assad, opening the door to a shift in Russia's position after 10 months of bloodshed.

Moscow is one of Assad's few remaining allies, resisting pressure to call for his resignation and, with China, blocking a Western-crafted U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned a crackdown that has killed thousands of civilians.

But Russia can do no more, state-run news agency Itar-Tass quoted Mikhail Margelov, a senior lawmaker who is President Dmitry Medvedev's special Africa envoy and has also engaged in diplomacy over Syria, as saying.

"(Our) veto on the U.N. Security Council resolution was the last instrument allowing Bashar al-Assad to maintain the status quo in the international arena," Margelov was quoted as saying.

The veto "was a serious signal to the president of Syria from Russia. This veto has exhausted our arsenal of such resources," said Margelov, who is chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia's upper parliament house.

The Syrian government says the country is being attacked by extremists but some civilians say the only armed gangs in the city are the security forces. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

Syria earlier rejected the Arab League's wide-ranging new plan to end the crisis, saying the League's call for a national unity government in two months is a clear violation of Syrian sovereignty.

President Bashar Assad blames the uprising that erupted in March on terrorists and armed gangs acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country. His regime has retaliated with a brutal crackdown that the U.N. says has killed more than 5,400 people.

There is growing urgency, however, to find a resolution to a crisis that is growing increasingly violent as regime opponents and army defectors who have switched sides have started to fight back against government forces.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people poured into the streets in a suburb outside the capital, Damascus, to mourn 11 residents who were either shot dead by security forces or killed in clashes between army defectors and troops a day earlier, activists said.

The crowd in Douma — which one activist said was 60,000-strong — was under the protection of dozens of army defectors who are in control of the area after regime forces pulled out late Sunday, said Samer al-Omar, a Douma resident.

The reports could not be independently confirmed.

Some say the Arab League observers' mission has been a failure. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

The Arab League has tried to stem the bloodshed by condemning the crackdown, imposing sanctions and sending a team of observers to the country. On Sunday, the League called for a unity government within two months, which would then prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held under Arab and international supervision.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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