Fresh Fighting as Assad Backs ‘Honest’ Peace for Syria

Posted March 10th, 2012 at 2:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrian troops and tanks launched new assaults on the cities of Idlib and Homs, even as Syria's embattled leader was promising to support what he calls “any honest effort” to bring peace to the country.

Video uploaded to the Internet Saturday showed plumes of heavy black smoke rising from the northwestern city of Idlib, while other images showed civilians, clutching their belongings, running for their lives.

Other video showed the aftermath of Friday's fighting in Homs, which reduced several homes to piles of rubble.

The latest fighting came as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met in Damascus with former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan. State-run media quoted the Syrian leader saying he supports efforts to end the fighting. But Mr. Assad also warned there could be no political settlement as long as what he called “terrorists” were being allowed to sow chaos in the streets.

Mr. Annan – the new U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria – is pushing for a political solution, warning that attempts to arm rebel forces will only make the situation worse. He also met Saturday with a Syrian opposition leader and planned to meet with President Assad again on Sunday.

Arab officials meeting in Cairo Saturday lashed out at the Syrian government, demanding it to be held accountable for the death and destruction.

Qatar's prime minister leveled the most serious charges against Damascus, accusing the government of “genocide.” Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani called for the Syrian rebels to be armed, saying a cease-fire would no longer be enough.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, criticized Russia, blaming it and China for vetoing key U.N. Security Council resolutions and allowing the brutality to continue.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – attending the Arab league meeting – defended Russia's actions. He told diplomats and officials that Moscow was not trying to protect any regime but was concerned about what he called “crude interference” in the affairs of sovereign countries. Lavrov also called for a cease-fire, saying it was unfair to blame only one side for the violence.

Russia and China have twice vetoed U.N. Security Council proposals that would have put pressure on Mr. Assad's government to end the conflict.

Following their meeting Saturday, the Arab League and Russia issued a joint statement, agreeing on the need to end the violence in Syria and for unbiased monitoring of the situation there. They also called on Syria to allow humanitarian aid into the country.

The U.N. estimates that Syrian forces have killed more than 7,500 people since the anti-Assad uprising began a year ago. The government blames “terrorists” for the unrest, saying that 2,000 of its security forces have been killed in the conflict.

The U.N. has been pressing Syrian officials for access to the country to help the victims of the ongoing government crackdown on dissent. But U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Friday in Ankara that Syrian officials “asked for more time.”

Syrian opposition groups said Friday at least 31 people died as thousands took to the streets across the country to rally against the government of President Assad.