U.N. Envoy Kofi Annan Arrives In Syria To Revive Peace Plan
U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan on Tuesday met Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to revive the six-point plan it proposed Syria in late March, whose second point, a total ceasefire, has been observed since April 12, even though many breaches of it have been noted by the U.N. observers or reported by the inland activists.
Annan arrived in Damascus on Monday and conveyed the appallment of the international community to the massacre perpetrated on Friday in the town of Houla, where about a hundred people died in one of the bloodiest days of the Syrian uprising.
The United Nations said that the governmental troops have fired shells and heavy artillery on the people in Houla, but did not formally accuse the regime of having committed the atrocities.
U.N. human rights office reports that witnesses told them that pro-governmental militias entered the houses and executed the people by stabbing them or shooting them at point-blank range. As many as 20 people in the village of Taldou are said by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights office to have been killed by artillery and tank fire, while most of the other victims were summarily executed in two separate incidents.
BBC reports that people who spoke to the media and the Free Syrian Army told them that the men who attacked them were the famous shabbiha, the governmental thugs who attack the civilians.
Upon arriving in Damascus, Annan said that everyone of those involved in the massacre must be brought to justice, and urged “every gun carrier” to abide by the six-point peace plan.
Syrian Vice Foreign Minister told the press that Damascus was committed to the peace plan and that the government made all accommodations so that the U.N. mission may operate without restrains, and even said that there was no violation of the accord by the Syrian troops, a stance that the opposition in Syria, the United States and its allies deny, the U.S. and its allies considering both parties guilty of violating the ceasefire agreement.
Syrian government presented a different vision of the facts on Monday, when it said that the rebels attacked the governmental troops as they were stationed in their base, and that the troops fought back but none of them was in the area where the massacre occurred.
The Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun said on Monday that the blame laid with the Syrian troops alone, since the rebels did not have the military capacity to inflict the damage only heavy weaponry could have inflicted in Houla.
The Syrian Vice Foreign Minister blamed the failure of Annan’s plan entirely on the opposition and the foreign country which are supporting it. In an interview for a Russian television channel, Bashar al-Assad spoke earlier this month of the conspiracy supported by foreign countries and of terrorist attacks staged by those in Syria with the purpose of removing him from office.
The massacre in Houla prompted long-standing ally Russia to take a hard stance on Assad’s regime, blaming most of the violence on it, while acknowledging that the rebels have terrorists among their ranks.
Russian analysts say that the support for Syria is growing thin and that a shift in the position could come at any time, if the Syrians don’t mind the way they are handling the crisis and continue in this violent line.
Alexei Malashenko, a Middle East expert, was quoted by the CBS News to say that Russia could stop helping Syria because the regime in Damascus is putting himself and Russia in a corner. Malashenko said that Assad understood that he may lose Russian support and is expected to step back a bit.
Since the United Nations did not put entirely the blame on the Syrian government for Houla, because it was not proved beyond any doubt who executed the close range shooting and stabbing, Russia blamed both the government and the rebels for them.
Sergei Lavrov said, after speaking with British Foreign Minister William Hague, who flew to Moscow to convey that Western was “sickened” by the crimes in Houla, that the region was under the rebel control, though surrounded by the governmental troops, which is why both were to blame.
Russian Foreign Minister restated that Russia was not particularly protecting Bashar al-Assad and his regime, but was protecting Syria and that it wanted Syria to fix its problems according to the plan put forward by Kofi Annan.
The suggestion of the Russian FM that the two sides in the conflict share equal responsibility is seen by analysts as “laughable” but the stance of Russia is welcome, especially because of its power to exert pressure on Damascus, something William Hague reminded after the meeting with Lavrov.
Activists say that since the conflict started about 12,000 people died, a number which the U.N. does not officially confirm as it sets the death toll to 9,000 people. Even so, Annan’s plan is expected to work as a last resort, since the international community has no other plan for Syria and the possibility of a military intervention is almost out of the question, given that Syria is different than any other country which underwent military interventions of the United Nations-backed plans.
In a phone talk on Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande agreed to work together toward solving this conflict, and to rely on the support of Russia for it.11