International peace envoy Kofi Annan says Syria’s government has accepted his plan to resolve the country’s year-long opposition uprising. But fighting between government and rebel forces continues.
A spokesman for the U.N.-Arab League joint envoy said Tuesday that Mr. Annan received a letter from Syria declaring its approval of the plan, which calls on government and rebel forces to begin a cease-fire and a dialogue. The spokesman says Mr. Annan replied by urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to implement his commitments with “immediate effect.”
Mr. Annan was in Beijing, where he met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to build international support for the Syria peace initiative. Mr. Wen said China backs Annan’s mediation efforts.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 10 people were killed on Tuesday, as government forces fired at civilians and battled rebels in several parts of the country — including the northwestern province of Idlib, the Damascus suburbs and the central city of Homs.
U.N. Middle East peace envoy Robert Serry said Tuesday the number of people killed in Syria’s crackdown on the uprising has risen to more than 9,000, an increase of about 1,000 over the world body’s previous estimate.
In remarks to the U.N. Security Council, Serry said violence in Syria continues “unabated” and preventing a further escalation of the conflict is “urgent.” Damascus blames the revolt on what it says are foreign-backed terrorists.
Syrian state television showed Mr. Assad touring the former rebel stronghold of Baba Amr in Homs, the scene of a weeks-long siege by government forces. He was seen walking past ruined buildings and discussing reconstruction efforts in the district, where hundreds of people were killed — many of them civilians.
A member of the exiled opposition Syrian National Council responded to Syria’s acceptance of the Annan peace plan by reiterating a demand for Mr. Assad to resign — a condition that is not part of the initiative.
Ausama Monajed told VOA that unless the Syrian president hands power to a deputy to negotiate with the opposition, any talks will be a “waste of time” and lead to more casualties.
U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said Tuesday the Annan initiative provides a framework for stopping Syria’s violence. But he said Washington believes very strongly that Mr. Assad should leave power as part of a political transition.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said predictions that the Syrian president’s resignation would end the Syrian conflict are “very short-sighted.” He said decisions on Syria’s future should be made by the Syrian people rather than the leaders of other nations.
In other developments Tuesday, Lebanese officials said gunfire from battles in Syria’s al-Qaa region spilled across the border into Lebanon. But they gave conflicting accounts about whether Syrian troops crossed into Lebanese territory in pursuit of rebels, some of whom have taken shelter in Lebanon.
Several hundred Syrian opposition figures met in Istanbul to try to unify their ranks and win greater recognition from Western and Arab nations in an anti-Assad coalition calling itself the “Friends of Syria.” Istanbul is due to host a conference of those nations on Sunday.
Syrian National Council members drafted a declaration calling for a post-Assad Syria to be a “civic and democratic state.” But veteran Syrian dissident Haitham al Maleh withdrew from the Istanbul meeting, accusing the SNC of ignoring differing opposition voices.
“We want everyone to sign a declaration today produced by the Syrian National Council (SNC). It is a declaration that sets Syria’s new identity after the fall of Bashar al-Assad, a Syria that is democratic, plural, civil and guarantees equality to all the Syrian people.”