Syrian regime pleads with Russia for economic aid

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria reached out to its powerful ally Russia on Friday, as senior officials pleaded with Moscow for financial loans and supplies of oil products — an indication that international sanctions are squeezing President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The signs of desperation came as resilient rebels fought regime forces in the Syrian capital only two weeks after the government crushed a revolt there. The renewed battles in Damascus show Assad’s victories could be fleeting as armed opposition groups regroup and resurge.

“The fighting in Damascus today proves that this revolution cannot be extinguished,” said activist Abu Qais al-Shami. “The rebels may be forced to retreat because of the regime’s use of heavy weaponry but they will always come back.”

Syria is thought to be burning quickly through the $17 billion in foreign reserves that the government was believed to have at the start of Assad’s crackdown on a popular uprising that erupted in March 2011. The conflict has turned into a civil war, and rights activists estimate more than 19,000 people.

Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, who has led a delegation of several Cabinet ministers to Moscow over the past few days, told reporters Friday that they requested a Russian loan to replenish Syria’s hard currency reserves, which have been depleted by a U.S. and European Union embargo on Syrian exports.

He said Damascus also wants to get diesel oil and other oil products from Russia in exchange for crude supplies.

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