Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, said on Thursday he would urge
President Bashar Assad and his foes to stop fighting and seek a political
solution, drawing angry rebukes from dissidents.
As world pressure on
Syria mounts, the deputy oil minister announced his defection, the first by a
senior civilian official since the start of the yearlong popular uprising
against Assad, whose Ba’ath party marked 49 years in power on
“I, Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in
Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and
withdrawal from the Ba’ath Party,” Hussameldin said in a video, the authenticity
of which could not be immediately confirmed.
“I join the revolution of
this dignified people,” he said, adding that he had been in government for 33
years but did not want to end his career “serving the crimes of this
“I have preferred to do what is right although I know that this
regime will burn my house and persecute my family,” he said.
against the further militarization of the conflict, while Turkey, a neighbor of
Syria, declared its opposition to intervention by any force from outside the
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Thursday that such an
intervention could be subject to exploitation.
Soner Cagaptay, a senior
fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that while Turkey
is still hesitant to back military action in Syria, the formation of an
international consensus could make Ankara more amenable to the prospect of
“Turkey really values UN consensus. Like all
middle-sized powers, it is not a superpower and cannot act purely independently.
Turkey values UN-granted legitimacy,” he told The Jerusalem
Cagaptay – who recently visited Syrian refugee camps in southern
Turkey – said many he encountered there are pessimistic about prospects for a
swift resolution of the crisis.
“When you talk to people in Ankara and
Istanbul, what you hear is similar to what you’d hear in Washington: ‘Assad will
inevitably fall; he’s in serious trouble,’” Cagaptay said. But in southern
Turkey, he said, people are more skeptical about how long it will take for him
“Their general sense there is that the Free Syrian Army isn’t on
par with Assad’s military machine. Though people in the FSA are doing
great things, it’s not real competition for the regime – it lacks both the
equipment and the organization.”
Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan
and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met on Wednesday night with Qatari Prime
Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who has advocated arming the rebels
and creating an Arab peacekeeping force to intervene in Syria.
coming weeks, Turkey is expected to host a second meeting of foreign ministers
from the “Friends of Syria,” grouping mostly Arab and Western governments, to
follow up on talks in Tunis last month aimed at finding ways to rein in
Tunisian President Moncef al-Marzouki said his country, which has
offered Assad asylum to end the bloodshed, would be ready to join an Arab
peacekeeping force in Syria.
On the ground in Syria, security forces shot
and wounded three mourners on Thursday at a Damascus funeral for an army
defector that turned into a protest against Assad.
The funeral was taking
place in the capital’s Mezze district, home to several embassies and security
facilities and overlooked by Assad’s hilltop palace, when it came under
Annan, who is due in Damascus on Saturday, said on a visit to
Cairo, “The killing has to stop and we need to find a way of putting in the
appropriate reforms and moving forward.
“We should not forget the
possible impact of Syria on the region if there is any miscalculation,” he said,
adding that he would ask the government and its opponents to come together to
find a political settlement.
But one Syrian opposition activist voiced
alarm at Annan’s call for dialogue, saying it sounded “like a wink at Bashar”
that would only encourage Assad to “crush the revolution.”
“We reject any
dialogue while tanks shell our towns, snipers shoot our women and children and
many areas are cut off from the world by the regime without electricity,
communications or water,” Hadi Abdullah said from Homs.
An officer in the
rebel FSA said diplomatic initiatives had proved fruitless in the past. “When
they fail, no action is taken against the regime and that’s why the opposition
has to arm itself against its executioner,” he said.
chief Valerie Amos – who has preceded Annan in traveling to Syria – said she was
“devastated” by the destruction she had seen in the Baba Amr district of Homs
and wanted to know what had happened to its residents. The neighborhood endured
a 26-day military siege before rebel fighters withdrew a week ago.
is the first senior foreign official to visit Baba Amr since the government
assault, which activists said ended in reprisals by Assad loyalists. A
Syrian Arab Red Crescent team that accompanied her there on Wednesday found few
inhabitants among the ruins.
Western powers have shied away from
Libya-style military intervention in Syria, at the heart of a conflict- prone
Middle East, but some US lawmakers have asked how many Syrians must die before
US President Barack Obama’s administration uses force.
Leon Panetta on Wednesday defended US caution, especially without international
consensus on Syria, but said the Pentagon had reviewed military
Syrian activists say any prospects of a negotiated deal with
Assad disappeared long ago in government repression.
China, one of
Assad’s few friends abroad, said its envoy had given his Syrian hosts a message
similar to Annan’s, urging all parties to stop violence and allow aid into
Beijing is trying to counter Western and Arab charges
that it, along with Russia, has colluded in Assad’s repression of dissent by
twice vetoing UN resolutions criticizing him.
The world has failed to
stop an unequal struggle pitting mostly Sunni demonstrators and lightly armed
rebels against the armored might of Assad’s 300,000-strong military, secret
police and feared Alawite militiamen.
Syrian activist groups said the
army, after its onslaught on Homs, is preparing to attack rebel bastions in
Idlib province, a mountainous area in the northwest that borders
Meanwhile, the United Nations said it was preparing food supplies
for 1.5 million Syrians as part of a 90-day emergency plan.
to be done,” John Ging of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs, which is headed by Amos, told a Syria Humanitarian Forum in
The UN World Food Program said it had distributed some supplies
in Syria through local aid agencies, but had not reached people in the areas
worst hit by the violence.
Syria’s ambassador in Geneva, Faysal Khabbaz
Hamoui, accused armed groups of destroying civilian facilities.
Lebedev, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, agreed, saying: “Rebel groups attack,
kill, torture and intimidate the civilian population. The flow of all
kind of terrorists from some neighboring countries is always increasing. Most of
the militants are directly or closely affiliated with al-Qaida.”Reuters
contributed to this report.