x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Annan may be 'last chance' for Syria peace

Moscow talks come as US president urges non-lethal aid to be sent to opposition fighters as parts of Homs and Idlib under new attacks.

A Syrian woman shows her gratitude to a soldier from the Free Syrian Army in front a destroyed Syrian army tank which was attacked during clashes last week between the government forces and the rebels.
A Syrian woman shows her gratitude to a soldier from the Free Syrian Army in front a destroyed Syrian army tank which was attacked during clashes last week between the government forces and the rebels.



BEIRUT // Russia's president told Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria yesterday that his mission may be the last chance for Syria to avoid "a protracted bloody civil war" and promised Russia's full support.

The talks between Mr Annan and Dimitri Medvedev came the same day as Barack Obama, the US president, called for "non-lethal" aid to be given to support Syria's opposition, as rebels continue to battle against Syria's regime.

A meeting in South Korea between Mr Obama and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish premier, focused on providing the Syrian opposition with medical supplies and communications support, which was described as "non-lethal" aid.

"We worked on a common agenda in terms of how we can support both humanitarian efforts ... [and] the efforts of Kofi Annan to bring about much needed change [in Syria]," Mr Obama said.

The latest diplomatic efforts came as parts of Syria, including the besieged cities of Homs and Idlib, were hit by a series of attacks, according to opposition activists. Heavy shelling was reported in several Homs neighbourhoods, which have been a major target of regime military action.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of opposition activists in Syria, reported that at least 30 people were killed across Syria yesterday, including 11 in Homs and five in Idlib. These figures could not be independently confirmed.

The group said also that the town of Al Laja in Daraa province was attacked by "military aircraft", while the town of Hirak, also in Daraa, was suffering from a "severe shortage of food" after what was described as a 26-day siege.

There were also reports of clashes between security forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army in Aleppo and Zabadani.

The city of Hama came under attack from government troops, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Rebels reportedly carried out a dawn attack on a military base in Nabak in Damascus province, firing rocket-propelled grenades, according to opposition activists.

The state news agency, Sana, reported that "six of the most dangerous, wanted terrorists" were killed in clashes with authorities on the town of Nawa in Daraa. The six had been involved in "killing, kidnapping and sabotaging private and public properties", according to Sana. Two members of the security forces were also reported dead.

The regime of President Bashar Al Assad has continued to blame the crisis and bloodshed on what it describes as foreign-backed terrorists.

While the fighting shows no signs of abating, Mr Annan made the stop in Moscow yesterday in a bid to gather support for his plan to end the violence that has killed more than 8,000 people since the uprising began in March last year. Syria says rebels have killed about 3,000 members of the security forces.

The former UN secretary-general has proposed a six-point peace plan, which includes a ceasefire, the immediate withdrawal of tanks and other military hardware from residential neighbourhoods and the opening of access for humanitarian aid.

Russia, which has been seen as one of Syria's key allies, rejected earlier calls from some western and Arab states for Mr Al Assad to step down, and has said opposition rebels must also agree to a ceasefire and withdraw their fighters.

"We highly value your efforts," Mr Medvedev told Mr Annan in the televised portion of their meeting. "This may be the last chance for Syria to avoid a protracted bloody civil war. Therefore we will provide any assistance at any level."

Mr Annan is due to travel to China after his Russia visit. Beijing, along with Moscow, has vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions critical of the Al Assad regime. However, both governments backed a statement passed by the council last week in support of Mr Annan's mission.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch yesterday released a report accusing Syrian security forces of using civilians as human shields in areas including the northern province of Idlib, which has been a target of recent government assaults. The US-based rights organisation said it had gathered reports that residents, including women and children, have been forced to march in front of advancing soldiers and tanks.

"By using civilians as human shields, the Syrian army is showing blatant disregard for their safety," said Ole Solvang, a Human Rights Watch researcher.

"The Syrian army should immediately stop this abhorrent practice ... The Syrian army's use of human shields is yet another reason why the UN security council should refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. Somebody should be made to answer for these violations," he said.



* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and Reuters

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