G-8 can bridge Syria differences: Cameron

LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday insisted that G-8 countries share enough common ground on the Syrian crisis to forge a consensus at the group summit, which begins in Northern Ireland on Monday.

Mr Cameron was speaking after talks in London with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been at odds with the West over the war-torn nation.

"What I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome these differences if we recognise that we share some fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian people decide who governs them and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them," said Cameron.

Mr Putin, who has provided military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite pleas from the West, has been dismissive of US claims that the regime has used chemical weapons and insisted Russia had acted appropriately.

"We are not breaching any rules and norms and we call on all our partners to act in the same fashion," he said at a joint press conference.

Mr Putin also warned that countries mulling over supplying arms to forces fighting against Assad's regime risked tarnishing their reputation after footage emerged last month of one rebel apparently eating the heart of a dead soldier.

"It is barely worth it (supplying arms) to support people who not only kill their enemies but open up their bodies and eat their internal organs in front of the public and the cameras," Putin said.

"Do you want to supply these people with arms? "In that case this hardly has anything to do with the humanitarian values which have for centuries been preached in Europe," he added. "At least in Russia we cannot imagine this."

Mr Cameron has not said whether he favours sending weapons to the rebels.

Washington has vowed to send military aid to rebel forces after saying it had proof that the Assad regime had crossed a "red line".

American officials will not reveal exactly what military support will go to the rebel Supreme Military Council, although by many estimates it will initially be assault rifles and ammunition.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is pushing for an international peace conference on Syria, warned on Saturday that the chances for a political settlement could be undermined by the regime's use of chemical weapons.

Mr Putin will meet US President Barack Obama in Northern Ireland on Monday, the opening day of the Lough Erne summit.

Sunday's talks came as Damascus branded Egypt's "definitive" severing of relations with Assad's regime "irresponsible".

Islamist President Mohammed Mursi announced Saturday that Egypt would close Syria's embassy in Cairo and recall Egypt's charge d'affaires from Damascus.

He also called for a "no-fly zone" over Syria.

The international community has long been divided over how to tackle the Syria conflict, which according to UN figures has cost at least 93,000 lives since March 2011.

The fighting has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones, pitting a Sunni-led opposition against the Alawite-dominated regime.

Shortly after Mr Putin and Mr Cameron met, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a car bomb exploded at an army checkpoint close to a military airport in Damascus.

The blast close to the Mazzeh military airport in the west of Damascus was heard in several neighbourhoods in the capital and flames were visible from a distance, the Britain-based group said.

The G-8 summit is also likely to consider the impact of the election of moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani as Iran's new president.

Mr Putin urged him to forge closer ties with Moscow, while the United States offered the prospect of direct engagement with Iran but Israel called on world powers to keep up the pressure over the Islamic republic's nuclear drive.

Iran is a key ally of Assad, staunchly backing his embattled government.

The Syrian opposition accuses Iran of providing Damascus with weapons and encouraging Lebanon's Shiite Hizbollah militia, which relies on Teheran for support, to dispatch fighters to Syria.

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi said Damascus would seek to expand its relations further with Teheran following Mr Rowhani's victory.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis called on the G-8 to push for "an immediate and lasting ceasefire" in Syria.

"Peace demands a far-sighted renunciation of certain claims, in order to build together a more equitable and just peace," he wrote to Mr Cameron.

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