Syria forces on offensive as Annan pursues peace

Syrian forces pressed their assault on various regions across the country yesterday as international peace envoy Kofi Annan stressed there can be no deadline to ending the year-long crisis.

A Syrian girl who fled the violence in her country sleeps with a doll at a shelter housing refugees in the Lebanese city of Arsal in the Bekaa Valley yesterday

Clashes were reported in the central flashpoint city of Homs, in Damascus province and other areas, leaving at least 32 people dead, including 19 civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

At least 16 people, among them four soldiers and two children, were killed as regime forces pounded several neighbourhoods of Homs, the Britain-based watchdog said.

In Damascus province, seven soldiers and five civilians were killed in clashes in two towns—Harasta and Zabadani.

The violence came as Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, said no time limit could be set to ending the revolt against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad that erupted last March.

“I think only Syrians should decide the issue of Assad’s resignation,” Annan told Russian news agencies in remarks translated into Russian.

“It’s important to sit all Syrians behind a negotiating table,” he said, speaking a day after meeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The former UN chief said it was “incorrect to give any deadlines” for ending the violence in Syria, in which more than 9,100 people have already been killed, according to monitors.

Medvedev warned on Sunday that Annan represented the last chance for avoiding a civil war in Syria, and promised him Russia’s full support.

Annan is to hold negotiations today with Beijing, which he said he hoped will also support his mission.

Russia and China have vetoed previous resolutions to condemn Assad’s regime. But last week they backed a UN Security Council peace plan for Syria put forward by the UN-Arab League envoy.

Annan’s plan calls for a halt to fighting, with the government pulling troops and heavy weapons out of protest cities, a daily two-hour humanitarian pause to hostilities and access to all areas affected by the fighting.

It also calls for the release of people detained in the uprising. However it imposes no deadline for Assad to carry out these demands, nor does it call for his resignation.

Annan’s spokesman said yesterday that Damascus had responded afresh on the six-point proposal to end the crisis.

“The Syrian government has formally responded to the Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan’s 6-point plan, as endorsed by the UN Security Council,” he said in a statement. “Mr Annan is studying it and will respond very shortly.”

Medvedev, whose government has come under increasing pressure to act on Syria, yesterday discussed the crisis in Seoul with US President Barack Obama.

Afterwards, Obama acknowledged there had been disagreements in the past few months between the US and Russia, an ally of Assad’s regime.

But he said both agreed “we should be supportive of Kofi Annan’s efforts to end some of the bloodshed that is taking place in Syria,” and that the goal was to have a “legitimate” government in Damascus.

Annan is now expected in China today to shore up backing for his efforts from the two UN Security Council members that have vetoed previous resolutions to condemn Assad’s regime.

“China values and supports the mediation efforts of Mr Annan and hopes this visit will allow in-depth discussions on a political resolution of the Syrian issue,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

In Ankara, a diplomatic source said a decision by Turkey to close its mission in Damascus was linked to security conditions, adding that the consulate in the northern city of Aleppo would remain open.

Norway said it was also shutting its Damascus mission for security reasons.

Meanwhile Syria’s fragmented opposition was preparing to meet in Istanbul to try to find common ground.

“The aim is for the opposition to agree on a united position and to outline the major points of a national pact,” Mohamed Sermini, a member of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, said.

The crisis is also expected to dominate a three-day Arab summit starting in Baghdad today.

Syria is a “pressing issue… It has an international dimension, it has a regional (dimension),” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told reporters ahead of the summit.

On the ground, security forces launched dawn raids in the eastern hotspot of Deir Al Zor, in which 16 people were arrested, and operations were also staged in Daraa province, activists said.

In central Hama, an activist said regime forces raided Kafr Zeita, setting up checkpoints and posting snipers to isolate the town.

“They arrested militants and doctors and burned down their houses,” Abu Ghazi, who was reached through Skype, said. “They have isolated the town by installing checkpoints at all entrances and posting snipers in areas overlooking the town.”

The operations came after a night of anti-regime protests.

Source: The gulf Times

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