DAMASCUS – International envoy Kofi Annan gave a bleak assessment of the crisis in Syria Tuesday, saying violence remained at “unacceptable levels” and warning that his peace plan was the country’s last chance to avert a disastrous civil war.
Yet Annan insisted there was still hope and said the presence of U.N. observers has had a calming effect on the crisis, which has killed at least 9,000 people since March 2011.
“There is a profound concern that the country could otherwise descend into full civil war and the implications of that are frightening,” Annan said in Geneva after briefing a closed-door session of the U.N. Security Council in New York by video conference. The observation mission, he said, “is the only remaining chance to stabilize the country.”
Annan also told the Council he intended to return to Damascus in the coming days, British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said, for the first time since the start of the mission in April.
The exact date for Annan’s visit to Damascus has not yet been set.
Syria has become one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Arab Spring, and world powers have been unable to stop the violence. Although the death toll mounts daily, the U.N. has ruled out any military intervention, in part out of fear that doing so could develop into regional conflict.
Annan has led diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the crisis, promoting a plan that calls for a truce monitored by observers to lead the way to negotiations for a resolution. But his efforts have been troubled from the start. A truce that was to begin on April 12 has never really taken hold. About 60 U.N. observers are currently in Syria and Annan said Tuesday that a full deployment of 300 should be on the ground by the end of the month.
He said even the small number of observers have had an effect so far.
“When they are fully deployed and working as a team, establishing relations with the people, we will see much greater impact on the work that they are there to do,” he said.
A cargo jet arrived in Damascus Tuesday carrying 15 SUVs, computers and telecommunications equipment for the observers, a U.N. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Although the uprising began with mostly peaceful protests, the deadly government crackdown led many opposition supporters to take up arms. Now, the regime is facing an armed insurgency targeting government installations, soldiers and security forces.
Annan called on both sides to stop the violence, not only the government. He appealed to anybody carrying guns to “think of Syria, think of the region,” and disarm.
“There have been worrying episodes of violence by the government, but we have also seen attacks against government forces, troops and installations,” he said. “And there have been a spate of bombings that are really worrying and I’m sure creates incredible insecurity among the civilian population.”
He said there has been “some decrease in the military activities, but there are still serious violations in the cessation of violence that was agreed and the level of violence and abuses are unacceptable.” He noted that government troops were still present in and around cities and towns and human rights violations were extensive and might be increasing.Annan’s latest comments were likely to increase Western powers’ fears that the plan has little chance of success. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said after the closed-door council meeting that “the Syrian government has not implemented fully any of the six points of the Annan plan.”
“The United States remains focused on increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and on Assad himself to step down,” Rice said. “We support international efforts to broker a political solution that ends the violence and facilitates a genuine political transition.”
Rice reiterated that Washington was ready to consider other Council measures, though Russia and China have made clear they would oppose U.N. sanctions.
After Annan’s briefing, Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said his country was committed to Annan’s plan but accused “terrorists” along with members of Al-Qaeda of murdering civilians and military forces in Syria.
Earlier Tuesday, Jakob Kellenberger, president of International Committee of the Red Cross, said the conflict was transforming into a guerrilla war with combatants carrying out more ambushes and bombings. He also said 1.5 million Syrians were struggling to meet basic needs for food, water and shelter.
As the country struggles, the regime is pushing a reform agenda that the opposition says is little more than window dressing. Syrians voted Monday in parliamentary elections that the government praised as a milestone in promised political reforms. But the opposition boycotted the polls and said they were designed to strengthen Assad’s grip on power. Counting was under way Tuesday, but it was unlikely the election for the 250-member parliament would change the trajectory of the revolt.