Syria’s President Bashar Assad rebuffed the UN-Arab League envoy to his country
Saturday, telling Kofi Annan no political solution was possible to the crisis
while “terrorist” groups were spreading chaos.
“Syria is ready to make a
success of any honest effort to find a solution for the events it is
witnessing,” state news agency SANA quoted Assad as telling Annan, a former UN
“No political dialogue or political activity can
succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and
instability,” Assad said.
A UN spokesman said Annan had made proposals on
stopping the violence and the killing, access for humanitarian agencies, release
of detainees and the start of political dialogue.
The talks were “candid
and comprehensive,” said Annan, who will meet Assad again on
While Annan and Assad discussed the crisis, Syrian troops were
assaulting the northwestern city of Idlib, a rebel bastion.
forces have just stormed into Idlib with tanks and heavy shelling is now taking
place,” an activist said.
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Sixteen rebel fighters, seven soldiers and four
civilians were killed in the Idlib fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory
for Human Rights, which said 15 other people, including three soldiers, had been
killed in violence elsewhere.
In Washington, an Obama administration
official said it is exploring options to halt the bloodshed in Syria but is
deeply skeptical of military intervention out of fear it could worsen the
In a briefing with a small group of reporters on
Friday, the official contrasted the situation in Syria with Libya, where a NATO
campaign bolstered rebels who eventually toppled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi
There was a “very viable” military option in Libya that
involved stopping the advance of Gaddafi’s forces and creating civilian
protection zones, but those conditions do not exist in Syria, the official
“In Syria, it’s a much more difficult environment because you
basically have regime security forces that are in many respects intermingled
with the population,” he said.
“A lot of the catastrophic violence is
taking place through artillery, through shelling, through snipers. And for those
reasons, there’s not simple military options that present themselves,” he said,
adding that part of what concerns the White House is that military intervention
might “escalate the humanitarian crisis without solving the problem.”
United States has drafted a fresh UN Security Council resolution on Syria, but
the State Department said on Friday it was not optimistic its text would be
accepted by the council.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met
Annan in Cairo earlier in the day, told the Arab League his country was “not
protecting any regime,” but did not believe the Syrian crisis could be blamed on
one side alone. He called for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid access, but Qatar
and Saudi Arabia sharply criticized Moscow’s stance.
Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who has led calls for Assad to be
isolated and for Syrian rebels to be armed, said a ceasefire was not enough.
Syrian leaders must be held accountable and political prisoners freed, he
“We must send a message to the Syrian regime that the world’s
patience and our patience has run out, as has the time for silence about its
practices,” Sheikh Hamad said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said
shortcomings in the UN Security Council, where Russia and China have twice
vetoed resolutions on Syria, had allowed the killing to continue.
says it will oppose any measure that holds the Syrian government and its foes
equally responsible for the bloodshed.
Despite their differences, Lavrov
and Arab ministers said they had agreed on the need for an end to violence in
They also called for unbiased monitoring of events there,
opposition to foreign intervention, delivery of humanitarian aid and support for
Annan’s peace efforts.
The exiled opposition Syrian National Council, in
a statement on its website, ruled out talks while Assad remains in
“Negotiations can never take place between the victim and
torturer: Assad and his entourage must step down as a condition before starting
any serious negotiations,” it said.
Annan’s trip to Damascus followed a
violent day in which activists said Assad’s forces killed at least 72 people as
they bombarded parts of the rebellious city of Homs and sought to deter
demonstrators and crush insurgents elsewhere.
Decisive victory has eluded
both sides in an increasingly deadly struggle that began as a mainly peaceful
protest movement a year ago and now appears to be sliding into civil
The United Nations estimates Syrian security forces have killed well
over 7,500 people. Syria said in December that “terrorists” had killed more than
2,000 soldiers and police.
The Syrian opposition denies any al-Qaida role
in the uprising, but Islamists are among rebels who have taken up arms against
Assad under the banner of the Free Syrian Army.
Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad
chided Russia for accepting the Syrian government’s portrayal of insurgents as
“There are no armed gangs, the systematic killing came from
the Syrian government side for many months. After that, the people were forced
to defend themselves so the regime labeled them armed gangs,” he told the Arab
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet Lavrov in
New York on Monday when the Security Council holds a special meeting on Arab
revolts, with Syria likely to be in focus.
But French foreign minister
Alain Juppe said Saturday he was pessimistic over the chances of a Security
Council resolution on Syria.
“We were hoping that once the elections in
Russia were over dialogue with the Russian authorities could be more
consensual,” Juppe said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in
“But for the moment this hope has not been
confirmed... Russia continues to block it on different points and there
is not an agreement on the text of this resolution,” he said. “I don’t know if
things will evolve here between now and Monday.”
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