Western and Arab proposals to arm Syria's opposition are a recipe for "carnage" and doomed to fail, Russia warned yesterday.
The country's disparate rebels will never unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad even if armed to the teeth, it added.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, accused members of the Friends of Syria coalition of undermining the chances of a UN-backed peace deal by offering rebel forces incentives to keep fighting.
Mr Lavrov issued the warning as the Assad regime stepped up a countrywide assault against the opposition's last remaining strongholds a day after publicly insisting it had begun to withdraw its troops and tanks from populated areas.
Opposition activists said more than 40 people, most of them civilians, were killed as government troops and tanks shelled towns and cities. There were 21 deaths reported in Homs, the country's most restive city.
At least 120 people are said to have been killed in the past 48 hours during one of the most sustained periods of violence in recent weeks.
The scale of the bloodshed has called into question Mr Assad's commitment to a deal brokered by Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria, which calls for the withdrawal of army units to be completed by next Tuesday.
While backing Mr Annan's initiative, Western and Arab members of the Friends of Syria, have explored ways of assisting the opposition.
The US has pledged to give the rebels "non-lethal" military assistance, while some Gulf states have announced they will pay the rebels salaries.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have gone even further by proposing to arm the rebels directly, a suggestion that Mr Lavrov condemned as futile and dangerous.
Russia is desperate to see Mr Assad survive, seeing him as the only Arab protector of Moscow's interests in the Middle East. (© Daily Telegraph, London)