Annan heads to Syria under shadow of massacre
‘Killings are a new sign of the ruthlessness of Assad
SYRIA: UN-Arab envoy Kofi Annan headed to Damascus Monday in a
bid to salvage his battered peace plan a day after the UN condemned the
Syrian regime's use of artillery in a massacre that killed more than 100
people. The former UN chief was to meet Foreign Minister Walid Muallem
later on Monday ahead of talks with President Bashar al-Assad on
Tuesday, a Syrian official said on condition of anonymity.
Annan's six-point blueprint was supposed to begin with a ceasefire
from April 12 but it has been broken daily and 87 people were killed on
Sunday in one of the deadliest days since its nominal start, a watchdog
Thirty-four of the dead were killed in the flashpoint central city of
Hama when government forces bombarded residential area following clashes
with rebel fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Hama is like a ghost city,” an activist told AFP by telephone from
the city on Monday.
“We are very afraid now, because the regime troops are surrounding
the areas where there was fighting, and we fear there might be a new
attack,” the activist said.
Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory said there was no excuse
for the shelling of civilian neighbourhoods. “Even if there were clashes
between regime and rebel forces, the army should never arbitrarily bomb
residential areas, which is what they did,” he told AFP. The shelling
came despite an international outcry over the deaths of 108 people in an
assault on the central town of Houla on Friday and Saturday.
The United Nations says that among them were 49 children and 34
women, many gruesomely blown to bits or shot dead at point blank range.
The UN Security Council on Sunday strongly condemned the government's
role through its heavy artillery assault. Its statement however did
little to bring the international powers together to end the crisis.
Britain and France had proposed a text making an even stronger
condemnation of the Assad government. But Russia would not agree on the
wording and demanded a special meeting before approving the eventual
statement. The United States and European nations say the killings are a
new sign of the ruthlessness of the Assad government.
“The evidence is not murky and there is a clear footprint of the
government in this massacre,” said Peter Wittig, Germany's UN
Russia disputes the evidence and continues to defend its key Middle
“We don't believe that the Syrian government would be interested in
spoiling the visit of special envoy (Annan), a very important visit
during which we expect a lot of progress,” said Igor Pankin, Russia's
deputy UN ambassador.
“It is difficult to imagine that the Syrian government would not only
shell... but also use point-black execution” against dozens of women and
children, he said.
Syria's UN envoy Bashar Jaafari said accusations of government
responsibility were part of a “tsunami of lies” against Damascus.
Russia and the Syrian government continue to blame opposition groups
and foreign extremists for much of the trouble. The Free Syrian Army and
other rebels meanwhile say that the Houla massacre is another reason why
they should not respect the ceasefire that Annan brokered but which has
never taken hold.
In Istanbul, exiled opposition head Burhan Ghalioun on Sunday called
for a “battle of liberation and dignity” against the regime until the
United Nations allows an international military intervention. The Free
Syrian Army warned that unless the international community took concrete
action it would no longer be bound by Annan's peace plan.
“The Annan plan is not dead,” Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall
Grant said on Sunday. But in talks on Syria on Wednesday, the council
needs “to have a serious strategic discussion” about the Annan plan and
what the Security Council can do to help the special envoy make it work.
“With this new crime, the assassin regime of Bashar al-Assad is
taking Syria deeper into horror,” said France's deputy UN ambassador