Kofi Annan ends Syria trip without deal

International envoy and former UN chief Kofi Annan left Syria without a deal to end the bloody year-old conflict as regime forces mounted a new assault on rebel strongholds in the north.

Annan said he presented President Bashar Assad with concrete proposals “which will have a real impact on the ground”.

“Once it’s agreed, it will help launch the process and help end the crisis on the ground,” he told reporters at the end of his two-day visit to Syria.

Annan, who also met with Syrian opposition leaders and businessmen in Damascus, said he was optimistic following two sets of talks with Assad, but acknowledged that resolving the crisis would be tough.

“It’s going to be difficult but we have to have hope,” he said.

The former UN chief called for reforms that would create “a solid foundation for a democratic Syria,” but added: “You have to start by stopping the killing and the misery and the abuse that is going on today and then give time for a political settlement.”

The ongoing bloodshed cast a pall over the UN efforts to end the country’s yearlong conflict, with both the regime and the opposition refusing talks with the other.

In his discussions with Assad, Annan made several proposals to end the political crisis and start a political dialogue. He was rebuffed by the president who rejected any immediate negotiations with the opposition, striking a further blow to already faltering international efforts for talks to end the conflict.

Assad told Annan a political solution is impossible as long as “terrorist groups” threaten the country.

The opposition’s political leadership has also rejected dialogue, saying talk is impossible after a crackdown that the UN estimates has killed more than 7,500 people. That makes it likely that the conflict will continue to edge toward civil war.

Annan left Syria yesterday, headed for Qatar, a UN spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Syrian forces, meanwhile, kept up an offensive against rebel strongholds in the north of the country and shelled neighbourhoods in the restive central city of Homs, activists said.

Military units loyal to Assad appear to have been freed up after finally crushing lightly armed rebels in the Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr last week, and are on the attack in Idlib province, across the border from key opposition supply bases in Turkey.

Troops on Saturday launched a long-anticipated assault to crush the opposition in Idlib province, bombarding its main city with tank shells from all sides and clashing with rebel fighters struggling to hold back an invasion.

Syrian forces had been building up for days around Idlib, the capital of a hilly, agricultural province along the Syria-Turkey border that has been a hotbed of protests against Assad’s regime.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said a civilian and three soldiers were killed yesterday in the village of al-Janoudieh across the border with Turkey where heavy clashes were taking place between troops and army defectors. A mother and her son were killed in the town of Ariha. The dead troops were killed by army defectors when they stormed a village and began a campaign of raids and arrests, activists said.


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