Syria Assaults Rebel Stronghold Despite Annan’s Diplomacy

Posted March 10th, 2012 at 6:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrian troops and tanks launched a long-anticipated assault on the rebellious city of Idlib Saturday, as President Bashar as-Assad was meeting in Damascus with Kofi Annan, the peace envoy from the Arab League and the United Nations.

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

Annan expressed grave concern at the situation in Syria and urged Mr. Assad to take concrete steps to end the current crisis. During the meeting, Annan also put several proposals on the table to stop the violence, give access for humanitarian agencies, release detainees, and start an inclusive political dialogue to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the people.

State-run media quoted the Syrian leader as 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.

Annan also met with a Syrian opposition leader and planned a second round of talks with the Syrian president on Sunday.

Arab officials meeting in Cairo Saturday lashed out at Damascus, demanding it to be held accountable for the death and destruction. They announced a five-point peace plan that calls for a cessation of violence, deployment of independent observers, allowing the free flow of humanitarian aid, refraining from foreign intervention, and supporting Kofi Annan's mission.

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 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 and said 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.

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