By Margaret Besheer and Pamel Dockins
The U.N. and Arab League’s chief peace envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, called on Security Council members Friday to end their stalemate and decide what to do to pressure Syria into ending its deadly crackdown on dissent.
In a briefing from Geneva, the former U.N. secretary-general said he is sending a team to Damascus next week to discuss a plan to deploy international monitors. Diplomats say Annan discussed his plans in a video briefing to the Council on Friday, less than a week after his own meetings in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
After the briefing, Annan told reporters Syria’s political turmoil needs to be handled carefully to avoid any “miscalculations” that could lead to a “major escalation” that could impact the entire region.
“I think it is a conflict in a region of the world that has seen many, many traumatic events,” he said. “I think we need to handle the situation in Syria very, very carefully.”
Asked if the government and opposition would agree to speak with each other, Annan said the activists he met, although angry and frustrated over the government crackdown, are eager to get talks going and resolve the issue politically and peacefully.
Western diplomats say they hope Annan’s mediation will accelerate efforts to pass a U.N. resolution condemning Assad’s bloody crackdown on dissent. Russia and China have twice vetoed previous resolutions condemning Syria.
Syrian state media released a statement on Friday ahead of the closed Security Council meeting, saying the Damascus government has pledged its cooperation with Annan in the hope of finding a “political solution” to the crisis. The Foreign Ministry statement again blamed unspecified “terrorists” and foreign interference for much of the deadly violence in Syria.
Annan met with Assad last Saturday and Sunday. He outlined proposals to end the fighting, provide humanitarian aid and begin political dialogue.
Rebel fighters have been in retreat throughout Syria and a movement of opposition activists has been fragmented with dissent. But Western governments have been reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition, for fear of further inflaming the situation.
Thousands of opposition protesters took to the streets in over a dozen towns and cities across the country Friday to demonstrate against the Syrian government. The rallies took place despite a government military offensive in many areas, and a siege by government forces in others.
Internet video showed crowds of protesters in several flashpoint districts. Opposition activists waved signs calling for “immediate foreign intervention.”
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel soldiers clashed with government forces overnight in towns near Damascus. VOA cannot confirm events shown in the videos since most foreign correspondents are not being allowed into Syria.
Syrian state media announced that Iran is sending several planeloads of humanitarian aid to the Syrian Red Crescent Society. U.S. officials say Iraq is allowing Iran to fly military supplies to Syria over its airspace.
Iran sends aid
Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami, of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California, says few details about Iran’s aid to Syria are available. He says Assad has sought assistance from Iran and its ally, the Hezbollah faction in Lebanon.
“I think he’s getting good aid from Iran and from Hezbollah, because Iran and Hezbollah are committed to this fight,” Ajami said. “The Iranians are helping him with software, and with knowledge they can shop [send] abroad, which is the knowledge they acquired in the summer of 2009, destroying the[ir] Green Movement.”
Turkey wants buffer
With thousands of Syrians fleeing into Turkey to escape the violence, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicates Turkey is considering intervening inside Syria to protect those refugees.
Erdogan said a buffer or security zone is being looked at, but other ideas are also under consideration. One of his senior ministers said late Thursday that a buffer zone offering protection to civilians fleeing the violence could extend as far as 10 kilometers into Syria.
During the past few days alone, thousands of Syrians have streamed in to Turkey. New camps to house more than 20,000 people are under construction, but the head of the Turkish Red Crescent estimates that up to 500,000 Syrians could eventually seek sanctuary in Turkey.
Ankara, once a close ally of Damascus, is now taking a leading role in diplomatic intervention in the Syrian crisis.