Annan to UNSC: Syria accepted ceasefire

UN-Arab League envoy: Assad regime agrees to halt military operations April 10; State media: Syria "Friends" are "traitors."

Assad meets Kofi Annan 390 (photo credit: REUTERS/SANA/Handout )
Assad meets Kofi Annan 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/SANA/Handout )
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan told the Security Council on Monday that Syria has accepted an April 10 deadline for ending military operations, envoys said, with the opposition under pressure to cease fighting within 48 hours of that date.
“The Syrians have told us they have put a plan in place for withdrawing their army units from populated zones and surrounding areas,” Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said after the former UN chief briefed the Security Council.
“This plan began yesterday [Sunday], the day we got the letter, and will be completed by April 10.”
Western diplomats, however, expressed skepticism about the credibility of the Syrian regime, which has repeatedly promised to end attacks but has pressed ahead with a year-long assault on insurgents that has brought the country to the brink of civil war. After their meeting in Istanbul on Sunday, the “Friends of Syria” diplomatic summit said Syrian President Bashar Assad did not have an open-ended opportunity to meet his commitments to Annan.
On Monday Syria’s state-run SANA news agency quoted a group calling itself the “Syrian Human Rights Network” as having condemned the Istanbul conference “and its false decisions, considering that they only represent the opinion of the defeated and fragmented opposition and traitors of the Arabs.”
The group was also quoted as saying, “Those who put their hands with Israel do not have the right to talk on behalf of the Syrian people who consider the Palestinian cause as their central issue and offer thousands of martyrs to destabilize the situation in the country.”
US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said several council members had “expressed concern that the government of Syria not use the next days to intensify the violence and expressed some skepticism about the bona fides of the government in this regard.”
Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari, confirmed that Damascus had accepted the April 10 deadline but said the government wanted the opposition on board.
“A plan wouldn’t be successful unless everybody is committed to it,” he said.
Russia chided Western and Arab nations that set “ultimatums and artificial deadlines” for ending the bloodshed in Syria and said it was not their place to judge peace envoy Annan’s ceasefire plan.
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“Kofi Annan has a mandate from the [UN] secretary-general and the Security Council. The Security Council will judge who should implement his proposals, and how,” the Interfax news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying during a visit to Armenia.
“Ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help the matter,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.
So far there has been no sign of Assad keeping his promise to implement Annan’s six-point peace plan, which calls for an end to violence and political dialogue between the government and opposition aimed at a “political transition” for the country.
There is “no progress on the ground” so far, said a diplomat who attended the Security Council meeting. Despite the lack of progress, Annan suggested there might be the beginnings of a plan to end the yearlong conflict and urged council members to “begin consideration of deployment of an observer mission with a broad and flexible mandate,” according to the diplomat.
Rice said that “in general, council members expressed a willingness to consider Mr. Annan’s plan for a monitoring mission if indeed a cessation of violence is achieved.”
The UN peacekeeping department has already begun contingency planning for a UN ceasefire monitoring mission that would have 200 to 250 unarmed observers. Such a mission would require a Security Council resolution.
It was not immediately clear how Russia was responding to Annan’s suggestions. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin left the council without speaking to reporters.
Russia and China vetoed two council resolutions condemning Assad’s assault on pro-democracy demonstrations. The United Nations says Syrian soldiers and security forces have killed more than 9,000 people over the past 12 months. Damascus says rebels have killed 3,000 troops and police.
Meanwhile, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) made his way to Damascus on Monday for talks aimed at expanding aid operations and gaining access to all detainees, the agency said.
Jakob Kellenberger, whose two-day visit will include stops in areas affected by the fighting, will push the ICRC’s proposal made in February for a daily two-hour ceasefire in order to evacuate wounded and deliver life-saving supplies to civilians.
“I am determined to see the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent expand their presence, range and scope of activities to address the needs of vulnerable people,” he said in a statement.
“This will be a key element of my talks with the Syrian officials.”
On the economic front, European Union sanctions forced Syria’s sole supplier of heating fuel to halt deliveries on Monday, making it hard for Syrians to cook and heat their homes and potentially widening opposition to the Assad government.
For humanitarian reasons, the EU had allowed Greek company Naftomar to continue supplying Syria in the winter with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) used for heating and cooking, but the bloc has now blacklisted the Syrian company that handled the imports.
“LPG deliveries to Syria have stopped because of sanctions,” said a director at Naftomar, who asked not to be named.
Most major oil firms had already severed ties with Syria for fear of defying EU measures or being linked to a bloody crackdown in which thousands have died.
Critics have said that Naftomar, by delivering fuel worth at least $55 million each winter month, might have been helping to extend Assad’s rule.