Annan to meet Assad, seeking end to Syria violence

BEIRUT Fri Mar 9, 2012 6:49pm EST

1 of 9. Syrian refugees and local residents take part in a demonstration against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad after Friday prayers outside the Syrian embassy in Amman March 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ali Jarekji

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan meets President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday to press for a political solution to Syria's year-long uprising and bloody crackdown in which thousands of people have been killed.

Annan's talks in Damascus come a day after activists said Assad's forces killed at least 68 people as they sought to extend control over the rebellious city of Homs and crush armed opposition in the northern province of Idlib.

Arab foreign ministers were also due to hold talks in Cairo with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Russia and China vetoed a U.N. draft resolution last month which would have backed an Arab League plan calling for Assad to step aside.

Activists said tank rounds and mortar bombs crashed into opposition districts in the rebellious central city of Homs, killing 20 people, while 24 were killed in the northern province of Idlib and more deaths were reported elsewhere.

"Thirty tanks entered my neighborhood at seven this morning and they are using their cannons to fire on houses," said Karam Abu Rabea, a resident in Homs's Karm al-Zeitoun neighborhood.

One focus of demonstrations was the anniversary of Kurdish unrest in Syria in 2004 when about 30 people were killed.

Many thousands of Kurds demonstrated in northeastern cities, YouTube footage showed, some carrying banners that read "Save the Syrian people". Other clips showed hundreds of protesters in the Assali district of Damascus, burning posters of Assad's father Hafez al-Assad and chanting "God damn your soul, Hafez".

Street protests have swelled every Friday after Muslim prayers since the anti-Assad revolt erupted a year ago, despite violent repression by the military and loyalist militias.

Decisive victory has eluded both sides in an increasingly bloody struggle that appears to be sliding into civil war.

"IMMEDIATE CEASEFIRE"

The former U.N. chief Annan, now the U.N.-Arab League envoy, discussed his mission with current U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby.

"I have very strongly urged Kofi Annan to ensure that there must be an immediate ceasefire," Ban told reporters in New York after the conference call. After a ceasefire, he said, there should be "inclusive political solutions" found through dialogue.

Annan also plans to meet the Syrian opposition before leaving the country on Sunday. He has called for a political solution, but dissidents say there is no room for dialogue amid Assad's crackdown.

"If (Annan) can persuade Russia to back a transitional plan, the regime would be confronted with the choice of either agreeing to negotiate in good faith or facing near-total isolation through loss of a key ally," the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a paper this week.

Along with China, Russia has opposed any U.N. resolution, fearing Libya-style military intervention, a position Germany hoped might change after Vladimir Putin's victory in the presidential election on Sunday.

"I hope that Russia has a clearer view after the election. It is crucial that the U.N. Security Council gives a clear statement that shows that we stand by the people of Syria and are against violence and repression," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters at an EU meeting in Denmark.

Russia, an old ally of Damascus and its main arms supplier, has defended Assad against his Western and Arab critics, twice joining China in vetoing U.N. resolutions on Syria.

A Russian diplomat said Assad was battling al Qaeda-backed "terrorists" including at least 15,000 foreign fighters who would seize cities if government troops withdrew.

The Syrian opposition denies any al Qaeda role in the uprising, but Assad's opponents have taken up arms. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five soldiers were killed when their armored personnel carrier was attacked by army deserters in the southern province of Deraa.

NO EQUIVALENCE

France's Foreign Ministry said Paris would not accept any U.N. Security Council resolution which would assign responsibility for the violence in Syria equally between the Syrian government and the opposition.

"There is no equivalence between the savage repression that Bashar al-Assad's clan has perpetuated for months and the legitimate desire of the Syrian people for the respect of their rights," said ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe denied Russian suggestions the West was seeking a pretext for military action: "The option of any military intervention is not on the table," he said.

China, which despatched an envoy to Syria this week, said on Friday it would send an assistant foreign minister to the Middle East and to France to discuss a way forward.

Beijing urged Annan to "push for all sides in Syria to end their violence and start the process of peace talks".

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who visited Homs this week, said Assad's government had agreed to join U.N. agencies in a "limited assessment" of civilian needs in Syria, but had not met her request for unhindered access for aid groups.

Syrian officials had asked for more time, she told a news conference in Ankara after visiting Syrian refugees arriving in growing numbers in border camps in Turkey.

Amos said she was "devastated" at the destruction she saw in Homs and that she wanted to know the fate of civilians who had lived in the city's Baba Amr district, which rebel fighters left on March 1 after a 26-day siege.

Syrian security forces have killed well over 7,500 people since the anti-Assad uprising began a year ago, according to a U.N. estimate. The government said in December that "armed terrorists" had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

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Comments (4)
Austell wrote:
Has Al Qaeda released any more statements lately praising the ‘opposition’…??

I suppose they can always just tell them to their faces, they’re fighting side by side after all!

Mar 09, 2012 7:18am EST  --  Report as abuse
Loeber wrote:
you people here that are against John McCain .. what do you know ? have you ever been to Syria .. ? you know any Syrians .. ? I have been there .. I never met a better more kind people .. the dictator has been shooting them at will for almost a year .. how much longer Mr. President .. ? the Syrian people are fighting our enemies .. the dictator Assad .. or is it that you really support him .. ? because you decline to do anything to stop him from mass murder ..

Panetta said it is a hard thing to stop Assad . . well OK .. that is all the more reason for the US military to do it .. no one else can do it as well .. and certainly not the Syrian people by themselves ..

Mar 09, 2012 11:48am EST  --  Report as abuse
DEAR WEST: Please come help us achieve regime change, ..er I mean please come “save us”. We have only killed 2000 or our countries soldiers so far and for some reason they are still fighting us. Al Qaeda and mercenaries from various countries are doing all they can but it’s not enough so we need your help at least until we can return to openly hating you and your buddy Israel. Kofi Annan and the UN are a big disappointment. All they want to do is try to work out a peaceful solution. What good are they if they can’t bring guns and help us over throw the government? We are in really dire straights but we are not willing to talk of course. Why would we want to enter into “dialog” when those of us in charge are not in much danger, it’s just the women and children we hide behind that are becoming martyrs and that is a big help for our PR war.
Signed, Your temporary “friends” of convenience

Mar 09, 2012 3:13pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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