Kofi Annan has received a response from Syria over his mediation proposals for
ending the country’s violence, but he is still seeking answers to outstanding
questions, the UN-Arab League envoy’s spokesman said on Wednesday.
letter, the former UN secretary-general, who met with Syrian President Bashar
Assad in Damascus over the weekend, called for a halt to fighting, humanitarian
access and starting a political dialogue with the Syrian opposition, spokesman
Ahmad Fawzi said.
Annan “has questions and is seeking answers,” Fawzi
said. “Given the grave and tragic situation on the ground, everyone must realize
that time is of the essence. As he said in the region, this crisis cannot be
allowed to drag on.”
A spokesman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry said
Syria had given a positive response to Annan’s proposals.
Annan is due to
brief the UN Security Council on Friday about his peace mission to
Council diplomats say Annan’s assessment of the crisis will be
crucial to a bid by the US and its European allies to pass a resolution on
Syria. Russia and China have already twice vetoed two such draft resolutions.
Negotiations on a draft resolution are expected to accelerate after Annan’s
briefing, diplomats said.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Wednesday
that Beijing was taking no sides in the crisis, and that he was “deeply pained”
by the suffering of the Syrian people, though his remarks did not suggest
China’s diplomatic position will change. State media said China would offer $2
million in humanitarian aid through the Red Cross. In Washington, British Prime
Minister David Cameron said there should be a political solution to the violent
upheaval in Syria, and a civil war or revolution is inevitable if Assad
continues his crackdown. Cameron’s comments came at a joint news conference with
US President Barack Obama following a two-hour meeting on a range of issues,
including Syria, Afghanistan and Iran.
Forces loyal to Assad attacked
rebel strongholds in various parts of the country on Wednesday, intensifying
their assault as the uprising entered its second year with a negotiated solution
as far off as ever.
In the southern city of Deraa, cradle of what began a
year ago as a peaceful uprising but has gradually evolved into an armed
insurgency, opposition activists said government troops had raked buildings with
There were also reports of a tank bombardment on the
village of al-Janoudieh in the northern Idlib region.
Reports from Syria
cannot be independently verified as the authorities deny access to rights groups
Official Syrian media accused “armed terrorists” of
massacring 15 civilians, including young children, in a pro-government district
of the central city of Homs, which has been the focal point of much fighting in
The UN says Assad’s forces have killed more than 8,000
people in their drive to crush the uprising. Its refugee agency said on Tuesday
that some 230,000 Syrians had fled their homes during the past 12 months, of
whom around 30,000 have sought safety abroad.
Amnesty International said
in a report that Syrians detained during the uprising had suffered widespread
torture that amounted to crimes against humanity.
Diplomats have warned
that Syria, riven by sectarian divides, will descend into a Balkansstyle civil
war unless a political solution can be found.
Fighting has raged unabated
across the country in recent days, with the army appearing to push back the
lightly armed rebels.
Following a pattern seen in recent weeks win Homs,
it has taken control of much of the northern city of Idlib, striking first with
heavy gun fire before launching house-to-house raids, activists said. A stream
of refugees crossed into Turkey early on Wednesday, saying they had been warned
that their villages in Idlib province would be targeted by the army in the
“They are bombing Idlib. They are bombing the city. They
have tanks and they have rockets,” said Abdul Samad, one of the refugees waiting
for help at a fog-bound border post.
The al-Balad district of Deraa, on
the southern border with Jordan, came under attack from around 20 tanks and
armored vehicles, activist Rami Abdelhaq said.
“The attack began early
this morning. The rebels are firing back, but they are outgunned,” he said.
Fighting also broke out in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, in Syria’s Sunni
Wednesday’s reported massacre in Homs took place in an
Alawite district. On Sunday, rebels and government traded blame for the murder
of up to 50 people in a mixed area of the city. The authorities say rebels have
also killed 2,000 soldiers during the months of fighting.
coupled with Western sanctions, has cost Damascus billions of dollars in lost
revenue from crude oil sales and tourism receipts.
The Syrian pound has
halved in value, foreign investment has dried up and trade has
Yet there is no sign of the Assad family and their allies
losing their grip on power, or of significant defections from the government or
The United Nations said on Tuesday that it would soon deploy human
rights monitors in countries bordering Syria to collect eyewitness testimony on
atrocities committed in the country.
The Amnesty report said Syria should
be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. However, only
the UN Security Council can do that, and it remains divided.
testimony presented in this report... is yet further evidence that torture and
other ill-treatment in Syria form part of a widespread and systematic attack
against the civilian population,” Amnesty said.