According to Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Buthaina Shaaban, special envoy for and political and media advisor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been invited to Beijing Tuesday. The ministry also stated that it will invite members of the Syrian opposition to come to Beijing on a later date.
These moves are widely believed to be aimed at persuading the Syrian sides to get back to the negotiation table and solve their differences through a political solution. But such hopes suffered a heavy blow after UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan quit his job earlier this month. This has prompted observers to question the effectiveness of China’s mediation efforts.
China’s influence in the Middle East is certainly weaker than other major world powers like the US and Russia. It’s natural that there are doubts on what China can achieve through its talks with the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition. China’s efforts will not bear fruits instantly after just one round of talks.
However, China will keep trying. Solving the Syrian crisis through a political solution has always been China’s position. It will work to explore every possibility, however thin.
Though Annan has left the special envoy post, the UN hasn’t halted its mission. It has been actively seeking a replacement for Annan. The leaders of some Western countries, like French President François Hollande, have also agreed to solve the Syrian crisis through talk rather than war.
For China, a major supporter of the UN mission, its mediation efforts this time are intended to send a bold signal to the international community that the possibility of a political solution is still on the table, and that China is determined to continuously work with the UN to broker such a deal in Syria.
The US and some Western and Gulf countries are now exploring the option of imposing a no-fly zone in Syria, which, as witnessed in Libya, is an important step to enable foreign military intervention. China will need this mediation opportunity to counter that idea and to give undecided countries second thoughts on which approach is more feasible.
There are several issues that will pose serious challenges to efforts to broker a political solution.
First, making a political solution effective will require the cooperation of all parties in Syria. But at this stage, the will to get back to the negotiation table is weak on both sides. They have been pouring more efforts onto the battlefield than in setting up talks, because both believe that victory is within reach. The longer they are at war, the harder it will be for them to talk.
Second, the largely divided opposition makes it difficult for China or the UN to carry out effective mediation work. For instance, there is confusion in China as to which opposition group the Chinese government should make contact with.
While the Syrian National Council, based mainly outside Syria, is widely perceived as a representative of the rebel movement, does it truly have authority over groups and factions that have been operating inside Syria like the Free Syrian Army? Should China’s mediation also include representatives from other opposition groups?
While China is making its efforts, some countries are paving the way for military intervention, including supplying arms. The more weapons the opposition receives, the more confident they grow of an ultimate military triumph.
The opposition will increasingly prefer war over talks, but Assad won’t easily surrender either. This will eventually deadlock both sides in a cycle of conflict, blocking the way to a peaceful solution and risking more people’s lives.
Due to China’s lack of influence and channels to present its argument in full, its struggle to stop bloodshed in Syria has been constantly misinterpreted by some countries that are willing to throw Assad out at any cost and have been actively promoting their stance to the international community.
This will not only undermine China’s effort but even leave China isolated. Chinese policymakers should learn from this, and try to win understanding and support to its stance on Syria through various international platforms.
For instance, China can put forward this issue at developing country-orientated platforms like the Non-Aligned Movement or BRICS.
Most developing countries these days know that political reforms are a much better option than revolution induced by foreign intervention. China’s stance will win support there relatively easily.
By gathering such supports, China will not only find itself better positioned when confronted by similar issues, but also draw more nations to defend the UN principles from being violated by a few super powers.
This article was compiled by Global Times reporter Gao Lei based on an interview with He Wenping, director of the African Studies at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. email@example.com
A “Consultative Meeting on Syria” in Tehran aims to promote a Syrian political solution and establish a counterweight to the self-styled “Friends of Syria.”
Iran’s position on Syria is unchanged: the crisis can only have a Syrian solution, based on dialogue between the warring parties. It aims to persuade as many countries as possible to support that option, and establish an alternative to the coalition of states complicit in the bloodletting in Syria.
Iran is looking ahead to the aftermath of what it expects to be the Syrian regime’s “victory” in Aleppo. Once that is achieved, Tehran believes, the powers backing the rival sides in Syria will have no alternative but to negotiate.
Turkey’s position is crucial in this regard, as it would clearly have a major impact if it opted to intervene directly in the battle for Aleppo. This in turn explains the sudden and sharp deterioration in relations between Ankara and Tehran, with the latter threatening to freeze trade with the former.
The Iranians have been preparing for today’s “Consultative Meeting on Syria,” hosted by the Foreign Ministry, for around two weeks, according to Iranian sources. Their contacts focused on states that are “not directly complicit” in the Syrian crisis, in addition to Turkey, which was also invited.
The sources said outgoing UN/Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was invited too, in the hope that he could be persuaded not to abandon his mission, but decided, apparently under pressure from various parties, not to attend.
On the eve of the conference, 20 countries were due to send delegates to the gathering, including Russia, China, Turkey, Pakistan and India, and seven Arab states (Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Kuwait, the UAE, and Oman). Eight countries were to be represented by their foreign ministers, the others at a less senior level.
Lebanon decided not to take part in line with its policy of non-involvement in Syrian affairs. Iraq was to send high-level delegates other than Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who “represents the American face of the Iraqi regime,” according to the sources. But Iraqi diplomatic efforts led to an agreement that would have Zebari attend along with the minister of national security. The sources added that many of the countries invited had – like Annan, who initially agreed to attend – come under heavy pressure to stay away, or at least to lower the level of their representation.
The Iranian sources said the principal objective of the conference is to “bring the Syrian opposition and regime together around the negotiating table, with the aim of arriving at a Syrian solution to the crisis in Syria.”
They said Iran had obtained undertakings from “a fair number” of Syrian opposition groups to support such talks, as well as the endorsement of President Bashar al-Assad, who conferred in Damascus earlier this week with the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, Saeed Jalili.
“We want this conference to be a counter to the Enemies of Syria (Friends of Syria) group, which has been promoting militarization, violence and sectarianism,” they said. “The hope is to persuade the maximum number of states to encourage and take part in an intra-Syrian solution.”
The thinking in Tehran is that the Syrian regime is bound to prevail in the battle of Aleppo, and that “after that, the time will come for negotiations between the forces that wanted to destroy the Syrian state and bring down the regime, and the states that want to make a political solution succeed and find a Syrian way out of the crisis.” Thursday’s conference is part of a process of “preparing the ground for such negotiations.” [...]
It is significant that close US allies and supporters of the Syrian rebels – Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE and Tunisia – were to attend the Tehran conference. “That is the strongest evidence of the opposition front cracking, and of its willingness to enter into a dialogue once the dust has settled on the Battle of Aleppo,” they said. However, it seems that diplomatic pressure succeeded in the end in keeping Kuwait and UAE from participating. … Full article
A bomb has detonated at a state-run television and radio building in the capital of Damascus, Syrian TV reported.
The explosion occurred on the third floor of the building, which houses administrative offices including the station director’s, RT Damascus correspondent Oksana Boiko said.
The station’s studios were frequently used by foreign journalists for live broadcasts from the city, she said. Three people were injured in the blast.
“It is clear that the blast was caused by an explosive device,” Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi said. “Several of our colleagues were injured, but there were no serious injuries, and no dead.”
“Nothing can silence the voice of Syria or the voice of the Syrian people,” al-Zoubi added while inspecting the damage at the TV building. “We have a thousand locations to broadcast from.”
The station continued to broadcast in the wake of the bombing.
The pro-government private Syrian TV station Al-Ikhbariya broadcast pictures of employees inspecting damage in the building and tending to a wounded colleague, the AP reported. [Photos]
Opposition forces mounted an assault on Aleppo’s main television and radio station on Saturday, August 4. The rebel gunmen failed to capture the building.
Seven journalists and workers were killed in June when an armed group attacked the headquarters of Syria’s al-Ikhbaryia TV.
- Casualties reported after Syrian TV center blast (english.ruvr.ru)
Special envoy Kofi Annan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met on Monday and agreed to initiate another ceasefire plan between the government and the opposition. The following is an account of what was said at the meeting.
The meeting between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the international envoy to Syria Kofi Annan on Monday began with the usual pleasantries. They were joined by the [Head of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria] General Robert Mood and Annan’s political advisor Martin Griffith.
The international envoy began by indicating that he had followed the recent media appearances by the Syrian president, from the German television to the Turkish Cumhuriyet newspaper.
“It seems, Mr. President, that you are intensifying your media appearances in this period,” he remarked.
“This is true for two reasons. First, I am someone who prefers action and then words. Second, we noticed an extensive blackout of the facts in addition to the distortion and misrepresentation of many matters. So I saw it as my duty to speak,” Assad replied, smiling.
Annan understood. He replied saying he completely understands the difference between the events on the ground and the prevailing image that reflects the imagined scenarios of several agendas and impressions.
Annan then turned to the officially prepared statement: “Mr. President, I felt it was my duty following the conference we held in Geneva and a few days before my briefing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on July 20 and 21, to come to you, meet with you, and present what we have achieved and what should be followed-up,” Annan said.
It was obvious from the introduction that Annan deliberately left out Friday’s opposition “Friends of the Syrian People” Paris conference and the escalation in rhetoric during and after that meeting.
He even went further, seizing the opportunity of his and the UN’s repeated commitment to his six-point peace initiative to stress to the Syrian president that the outcome of the Geneva convention was out of concern for this initiative, and nothing else.
“No doubt, Mr. President, you know that what happened in Geneva is different from some of the interpretations and explanations, which sought to add issues that had nothing to do with the conference or distorted its decisions,” he added. Annan’s remarkable position seems identical to the Russian stance on Western perspectives that followed the meeting.
Annan then spoke about the situation on the ground and the international monitoring mission in Syria. He pointed out the tragic situation in some regions and the need to practically achieve the essence of his mission, namely the second point concerning cessation of violence.
Assad responded by saying he is fully aware and responsive to the situation. He then presented his guest with a brief presentation of his mission since 12 April 2012. He explained how the ceasefire was reached and respected by the official armed forces for 24 hours, before it was broken by the armed insurgents, as noted in the international observers’ reports. While Assad was explaining, chief observer Mood nodded in agreement several times.
Annan listened to his host’s message, concluding that the truth of the matter confirms the need to work on a ceasefire, since the volatile situation began to spill outside Syria. Then he named Lebanon as a worrying arena for the repercussions of the Syrian situation.
“Let us try again and put a specific mechanism for a ceasefire starting from one of the more volatile regions, then move to the next,” Annan suggested. Again, Assad was completely responsive.
“We are a state, a government, and official authorities. Therefore, if you agree with us and we gave our word to abide by the ceasefire, we will be responsible for this and you can refer to us for implementation. But who will you negotiate with on the other side?” Assad asked his guests.
Annan replied, aided by Mood. They explained that the international observers, during their mission, were able to conduct a semi-comprehensive survey of armed groups active in those areas.
“We now know the main groups at least and we know those who are responsible for them. It is true that they do not have a unified command or clear structure. But we know the key people. Therefore we believe we could work with them step by step,” they said.
In this context, it was clear that the international officials had classified the side opposing the Syrian regime as an “armed opposition.” This was later indicated in Annan’s official press release.
On this point, Annan was reminded that the insurgents were the ones who aborted several similar attempts, especially in Homs.
“Some time ago, your observers witnessed attempts by some fighters to leave al-Khalidiya neighborhood in Homs to surrender themselves and their weapons. But other fighters stopped them from doing so. Your observers also witnessed how armed fighters blocked the attempt to rescue some of the residents trapped in al-Dayyan and al-Hamidiya neighborhoods in Homs,” they were told. This was confirmed by Griffith who had observed these events.
The international officials did not deny their hosts’ words. “Nevertheless, due to the current situation, let us try again. Our observers will reach an agreement with the armed groups in any area where we choose to work. In return, we want you to make a goodwill gesture at any of the mutually agreed starting points. Your gesture would be for a unilateral ceasefire from your side, a short time before the mutual deadline. Even if it is for four hours, for example,” Annan suggested.
Here, Annan was reminded that the ceasefire proposed in his six-point initiative is related to putting an end to the arming, financing, and weapons smuggling. Annan was listening to this sensitive point without reacting, until he was interrupted by a direct question.
“What do you think of what the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said two days ago [Sunday], when she called on the armed groups to launch an assault on the government’s forces? Is such a position consistent with the substance of your mission?” Annan was asked.
After a few seconds of silence, he replied saying, “Of course not. These are dangerous words. But let us try. Let us agree on this mechanism and proceed to try to implement it on the ground, step by step.”
As for the possible time-frame for such an operation, the two sides discussed several ideas, opinions, and suggestions. They concluded by agreeing on a preliminary deadline of three months, beginning from the first step to be implemented in the plan. In the meantime, both sides will work on releasing a joint statement of progress, once every two weeks.
Annan moved from the situation on the field to discuss the question of a national dialogue between the government and the opposition. “If we moved ahead in resolving the security issue and reached the dialogue phase, can you name your representative in this process to negotiate with the opposition, as a sort of liaison officer to follow the second part of the UN’s mission?” he asked.
Assad smiled and immediately replied, “We had decided on this before you asked us. Since the formation of the current government, we named someone to be in charge of the issue. He will be our representative in this process. He is the National Reconciliation Minister Dr. Ali Haidar.”
Annan inquired about Haidar and was told by Assad that he had been chosen for several reasons. “First, he is not from the loyalist camp. He is actually from the opposition. He is also the head of a party known for its honesty in Syria and abroad. Third, he was hurt during the bloody events. His son was killed by the insurgents but he ignored his wound and accepted the mission towards a genuine national reconciliation,” Assad said.
Annan acknowledged Assad’s explanation, but added that “we would have preferred if you named someone who is close to you and who would be in direct contact with you to follow-up on the dialogue process.”
Assad smiled again, saying that “Dr. Haidar and I sat next to each other all through my university years when I studied ophthalmology. Do you need someone closer than this?”
“In any case,” he continued, “I think your problem will be on the other side, not ours. Will you be able to name someone who represents the opposition?” Annan could not hold his laughter. He seconded Assad’s words and added, “I completely understand this difficulty. I saw them at the last conference in Cairo.”
The formal meeting concluded, but there was still time for some closing remarks. Getting ready to leave, Annan asked his host, “How long do you think this crisis will continue?”
“As long as the [...] regime funds it,” Assad replied. But Annan was not surprised by the answer. “Do you think they are behind all the funding?” he inquired.
“They are behind many things that happen in our region. They believe they will be able to lead the whole Arab world today and in the future,” Assad said.
The international envoy concluded by remarking, “But it seems to me that they lack the population needed for such an ambition.” This made everyone laugh.
The UN Security Council on Sunday unanimously condemned the killing of at least 108 people, including many children, in the Syrian town of Houla, a sign of mounting outrage at the massacre that the government and rebels blamed on each other.
Images of bloodied and lifeless young bodies, laid carefully side by side after the onslaught on Friday, triggered shock around the world and underlined the challenge of a six-week-old UN ceasefire plan to stop the violence.
Western and Arab states opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad put the blame for the deaths squarely on the government. But Damascus rejected the charge, with the UN observer mission refusing to link government shelling of the area to the deaths.
“The Security Council condemned in the strongest possible terms the killings, confirmed by United Nations observers, of dozens of men, women, and children and the wounding of hundreds more in the village of (Houla), near Homs, in attacks that involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood,” the non-binding statement said.
“Such outrageous use of force against civilian population constitutes a violation of applicable international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government under United Nations Security Council Resolutions,” the statement said.
The United Nations believes that at least 108 people were killed in Houla, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said.
Both sides to blame: Russia
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Moscow was deeply alarmed by the massacre, but that it was clear both Assad’s government and rebels were to blame.
“We are dealing with a situation in which both sides evidently had a hand in the deaths of innocent people,” Lavrov said at a joint news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Hague said Russia and Britain agreed Kofi Annan’s peace plan was “at the moment the only hope” for resolving Syria’s crisis and that Russia had an important role to play.
Lavrov said he and Hague agreed both the government and its foes must be pressured to end violence, and the Russian foreign minister criticized nations he said argued that there could be no solution without Assad’s exit from power.
Lavrov’s statements reaffirm Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Alexander Pankin’s comments on Sunday, when he said the circumstances surrounding the massacre were “murky” and rejected the idea that the evidence clearly showed Damascus was guilty.
The head of the UN observer force, General Robert Mood, briefed the council by video link. Pankin said Mood “did not link directly the (army’s) shelling with numbers of deaths.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent the council a letter that appeared to give ammunition to both sides.
He said the observers “viewed the bodies of the dead and confirmed from an examination of ordnance that artillery and tank shells were fired at a residential neighborhood.”
But Ban also said UN monitors observed shotgun wounds on some of the bodies, which could indicate close-range attacks by rebels, as Pankin suggested, or could be the result of follow-up attacks by the army after it stopped shelling.
“While the detailed circumstances are unknown, we can confirm that there has been artillery and mortar shelling,” Ban said.
“There have also been other forms of violence, including shootings at close range and severe physical abuse.”
International mediator Kofi Annan and Ladsous are expected to brief the council on Syria on Wednesday.
China condemns killings
China on Monday condemned the “cruel killings” of civilians, while insisting that Annan’s efforts remained the most viable way to end the violence in Syria.
“China feels deeply shocked by the large number of civilian casualties in Houla, and condemns in the strongest terms the cruel killings of ordinary citizens, especially women and children,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news briefing.
“This incident again demonstrates that an immediate cessation of violence in Syria can brook no delay,” Liu added.
“We call on all sides concerned in Syria to implement the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and Annan’s six-point proposal immediately, comprehensively and thoroughly.”
Liu stressed Beijing believed Annan’s efforts remained the best hope for stopping the violence.
“Annan’s mediation efforts and six-point proposal are a practical avenue and an important route for reducing the tensions in Syria and promoting a political solution there,” said Liu when asked whether China believed an alternative approach was needed.
“We also hope that all sides will continue to play a positive role in order to implement Annan’s six-point proposal.”
West blames Assad
Despite the inconclusive analysis by the UN team, Western governments capitalized on the opportunity to launch a stinging attack against the Assad regime.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant did not have any doubts about who was responsible for the events in Houla.
“It seems quite clear that the massacre in Houla was caused by heavy bombardment, by government artillery and tanks,” Lyall Grant said.
After the council meeting he said it was time for the council to discuss “next steps” – a code word for sanctions.
“The fact is, it is an atrocity and it was perpetrated by the Syrian government,” Lyall Grant said.
Russia, however, rejects the idea of sanctioning its ally and has accused the United States and Europe of pursuing Libya-style regime change in Syria, where Assad has been trying to crush a 14-month-old insurgency that began peacefully but has become increasingly militarized.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari reiterated his government’s denial, saying the massacre was committed by “armed terrorist groups” – the Syrian government’s term for the rebels. He also dismissed the “tsunami of lies” of the British, French, and German envoys, who blamed the government for the massacre.
“Women, children, and old men were shot dead. This is not the hallmark of the heroic Syrian army,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi told reporters in Damascus.
The Houla massacre is among the worst carnage in the uprising against Assad, which has cost about 10,000 lives.
In his public comments, Mood has called the killings “a very tragical expression” of the situation in Syria, but refrained from apportioning blame.
“For myself, I have had patrols on the ground all the day yesterday afternoon and today we are gathering facts on the ground and then we will draw our own conclusions,” Mood told the BBC in a telephone interview on Sunday.
But Ban and Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy for Syria, accused the Syrian government of using artillery in populated areas.
“This appalling and brutal crime involving indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force is a flagrant violation of international law and of the commitments of the Syrian Government to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers and violence in all its forms,” they said in a joint statement on Saturday.
Iran: massacre an attempt to sow chaos
Iran said on Monday that the massacre was carried out in order to spread chaos and instability in Syria and block peace efforts.
“We are certain that foreign interference, terrorist and suspicious measures which have targeted the resilient Syrian people are doomed to fail,” the website of the state television network, Press TV, quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.
“The attack has been carried out in order to create chaos and instability in Syria and its perpetrators are trying to block the way to a peaceful resolution,” he said.
Iran’s parliament blamed the United States and other Western countries for arming and training what it described as “terrorists”, the Iranian state news agency reported on Monday.
Annan to visit Damascus
Annan is planning to visit Damascus soon. Ja’afari suggested Annan could arrive as early as Monday.
Russia’s Pankin said that whoever caused the massacre wanted to disrupt Annan’s visit. “We don’t believe the Syrian government would be interested in spoiling the visit of (Annan) … by doing something like that.”
Opposition activists said Assad’s forces shelled Houla after a protest and then clashed with rebel fighters.
Activists say Assad’s “shabbiha” militia, loyal to an establishment dominated by members of the minority Alawi sect, then hacked dozens of the victims to death, or shot them.
Maysara al-Hilawi said he saw the bodies of six children and their parents in a ransacked house in the town.
“The Abdelrazzak family house was the first one I entered. The children’s corpses were piled on top of each other, either with their throats cut or shot at close range,” Hilawi, an opposition activist, told Reuters by telephone, allegedly from the area.
The White House said it was horrified by credible reports of brutal attacks on women and children in Houla.
“These acts serve as a vile testament to an illegitimate regime that responds to peaceful political protest with unspeakable and inhuman brutality,” a White House spokesman said.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in a statement that it could amount to crimes against humanity or other war crimes.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah also expressed horror at the massacre in a statement released on Sunday, saying it “strongly condemns the massacre and deplores those who carried it out.”
Although the ceasefire plan negotiated by Annan has failed to stop the violence, the United Nations is nearing full deployment of a 300-strong unarmed observer force meant to monitor a truce.
The plan calls for a truce, withdrawal of troops from cities, and dialogue between government and opposition.
Syria calls the revolt a “terrorist” conspiracy run from abroad, a veiled reference to Gulf Arab dictatorships that want to see weapons provided to the insurgents and the crisis turned into a proxy war against regional rival, Iran.
Terrorist groups fighting against the Syrian government have killed 23 more security forces in the northern city of Rastan, opposition activists reported.
According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, dozens of others were also injured in the early morning violence on the outskirts of Rastan, in the crisis-hit Homs Province, on Monday.
Three troop carriers were also destroyed in the fighting, the group added.
Armed groups also killed two officers in the capital, Damascus, and southern city of Dara’a, Syrian official news agency SANA reported.
The latest round of violence comes despite a ceasefire declared by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan a month ago.
There are currently 189 UN observers in Syria to monitor the truce, some two-thirds of the total intended for deployment as part of a six-point peace plan brokered by Annan.
Meanwhile, the European Union has imposed fresh sanctions on Syria in a bid to increase pressure on the government, which includes an assets freeze and visa ban on two companies and three pro-government figures. It is the 15th round of EU sanctions against Damascus since the beginning of unrest in the country.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011 and many people, including security forces, have been killed in the unrest.
While the West and the Syrian opposition accuse the government of the killings, Damascus blames ”outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest, insisting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.
- Starving the Syrians for Human Rights (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The head of a UN observer mission to Syria, Major General Robert Mood, escaped unharmed when a blast went off as his convoy entered a restive southern town on Wednesday, Syria’s Addounia TV reported.
The explosion in Deraa wounded six Syrian soldiers, including an officer, who were escorting the UN convoy, while 12 other monitors traveling with the Norwegian general were uninjured in the attack, said an AFP photographer.
The attack was “a graphic example of violence that the Syrian people do not need,” said UN observer chief Major General Robert Mood.
“It is imperative that violence in all its forms must stop,” Mood, who was unhurt in the attack, was quoted by observer spokesman Neeraj Singh as saying.
“We remain focused on our task,” Singh told AFP.
The blast, caused by an explosive device planted in the ground, went off after four UN vehicles passed the entrance to Deraa safely, the photographer said.
The attack came as one of Syria’s main armed rebel leaders threatened to resume attacks on President Bashar Assad’s forces, a pan-Arab newspaper reported.
The statement from Free Syrian Army (FSA) chief Colonel Riyadh Asaad will deal a further blow to the fragile UN-backed ceasefire agreement that both sides are accused of disregarding.
“We will not stand with folded arms because we are not able to tolerate and wait while killings, arrests, and shelling continue despite the presence of the (United Nations) observers who have turned into false witnesses,” Asaad said, according to the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.
“Our people are also demanding we defend them in the absence of any serious steps by the Security Council which is giving the regime a chance to commit more crimes,” he added.
Explosive devices are a common technique used by the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Asaad said, but it was uncertain whether his group was behind the attack on the UN convoy.
“Bombings are not part of our ethics and we don’t need them. Our aim is to target military vehicles and we only use explosive devices,” he said.
The UN has noted violations to the ceasefire from the government and armed rebels, who are suspected of carrying out a series of bombings in recent weeks, as well as political assassinations.
The armed Syrian opposition is highly fragmented and there are militant groups in the country who say they do not take orders from Asaad.
Syrian National Council spokesperson Ausama Monajed told Al-Akhbar in March that Asaad’s fighters only accounted for “maximum five percent” of all armed groups.
The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a Russian-European drafted resolution last month that authorized an initial deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers to Syria for three months, to be known as UNSMIS.
But despite an initial pause in fighting on April 12, a promised ceasefire has not taken hold. Nor has the carnage in Syria stopped, despite a parliamentary poll on Monday which the government promoted as a milestone on its path to reform but most opposition groups dismissed as a sham and boycotted.
International mediator Kofi Annan called on both Syrian government forces and opposition fighters to put down their weapons and work with the unarmed observers to consolidate the fragile ceasefire that took effect in April.
The newspaper quoted Asaad as saying the Free Syrian Army had devised a new strategy to make its attacks more effective.
Asaad said the FSA had pulled out of cities to give the Annan plan a chance to succeed.
“The Free Syrian Army is still on the ground in most Syrian territories, and its departure from the cities was to spare civilians military operations and in order not to give the regime an excuse to say that we do not want a ceasefire,” he added.
(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)
- Syria and the Annan Plan: The Devil in the Details (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Today, more than 14 million voters in Syria will have the chance to select among several thousand candidates for 250 parliamentary seats.
Cities across the country are plastered with posters of the candidates, with many adopting an Obama-sque “Change we can believe in” slogan.
However, the armed groups that have been backed by the NATO powers for the past 15 months have rejected the polls, and are showing their hostility by targeting candidates for assassination, usually by the use of explosives.
Since the armed uprising began, several thousand members of the security forces and their family members have been killed by the insurgents, who themselves have lost thousands of their own.
However, those relying on Western media are told that every such death has been caused by the security forces, ignoring the deadly violence that is being unleashed in the country by groups of armed mobs.
We have seen this before, in Libya, where tens of thousands of people have died so far as the result of externally backed civil war. In that country, those willing to kill regime elements were given training, cash and weapons.
Today, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are providing the same assistance to those seeking to use deadly force against the government in Damascus.
Although Syria President Bashar al-Assad has announced a raft of reforms, including new media laws and the right to form political parties, each such announcement has been met by an escalation in violence, which has rendered null the ceasefire brokered by UN envoy Kofi Annan.
Since mid-April, there have been numerous ceasefire violations by the insurgents, with the Alawi, the Muslim sect to which the Assad family belongs, and the Christian community the main target of the insurgents. Syria is the home of the Patriarchate of Antioch, the oldest church in Christendom.
For reasons not clear, the triumvirate of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have joined hands with the NATO powers to back the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has been the greatest beneficiary of the Arab Spring.
Today in Syria, one can see women across the country dressed as they please. Were the Brotherhood to take control, this freedom might soon be replaced with the obligation to wear the chador (full veil). Already in Egypt and in Tunisia, the secular ethos of the country is rapidly giving way to Saudi-style conservatism.
While European members of NATO are opposed to Islamic conservatives in their own countries, in the Arab world, they favor such elements over those who are secular. The result is a galloping conservatism across the Arab world.
Clearly, the NATO powers are aware that the more hardline local regimes are, the less chance that they will be able to compete with the US and the EU.
Rather than support the process of democratization in Syria, the NATO powers have joined hands with regional powers to train, arm and provide cash to the armed opposition, thereby fomenting a violent civil war in the country.
The 11 percent of the population that are Alawi and the 9 percent of Syria’s 24 million people that are Christian are terrified that they will become the target of ethnic cleansing. As for the majority Sunni community, more than two-thirds are moderate, with less than a third favoring the conservative Wahabbi-Salafi faith.
We have seen this before, in Afghanistan in the 1980s, where the US backed religious extremists to fight the USSR. The effects of that mistake are still creating harmful ripples across the region.
Today, rather than support secular elements and encourage the transition to democracy, NATO is backing armed groups that create mayhem across the country, groups that overwhelmingly follow an extremist ideology.
Of course, there are exiled Syrians who have congregated in Paris to provide a moderate face to the armed struggle. However, these people control nothing, only those with guns do.
And these days, more and more guns are flowing into Syria, as NATO seeks regime change not through the ballot but through the bomb.
The author is director and professor of the School of Geopolitics at Manipal University in India. He visited Syria last month as part of an Indian delegation.
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Syrian state media say border guards have foiled an attempt by an armed group to infiltrate into the country from neighboring Turkey.
According to the official Syrian news agency, SANA, clashes broke out between Syrian forces and members of the armed group near the village of Allani, close to the border with Turkey, in the northwestern province of Idlib on Saturday.
Syrian officials said several border guards were killed and injured during the fighting on Saturday. A number of armed men were also killed and wounded.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five people were killed in a bomb attack in the northwestern city of Aleppo on Saturday. Two similar attacks were also reported in the capital, Damascus.
The clashes on the Syrian-Turkish border come despite a ceasefire that took effect on April 12 and the presence of UN observers tasked with monitoring the truce.
The UK-based Observatory also said on May 2 at least 15 Syrian security forces were killed in a terrorist attack near the village of Rai in the northern province of Aleppo.
The ceasefire in Syria was part of a six-point peace plan proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in March.
The first group of the UN observers arrived in Damascus late on April 15. The observers were approved for the mission according to UNSC Resolution 2042 passed on April 14.
On April 21, the UN Security Council met and unanimously voted on Resolution 2043 to send a mission of 300 observers to Syria.
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UN-Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan’s spokesman stated that Annan’s plan for Syria is on track, even though progress in implementing the ceasefire is slow.
Speaking before reporters in Geneva on Friday, Ahmad Fawzi said that “the Annan plan is on track and the crisis that has been going on for over a year is not going to be resolved in a day or a week.”
“There are signs on the ground of movement, albeit slow and small,” he added, indicating that “some heavy weapons have been withdrawn, some heavy weapons remain. Some violence has receded, some violence continues. And that is not satisfactory; I’m not saying it is.”
Moreover, AFP quoted the spokesman as saying that “Annan would brief the UN Security Council on Tuesday by video teleconference from Geneva to give an update on progress implementing the plan… Overall, the plan and the UN military observers who are on the ground overseeing it have had an impact.”
On the other hand, the White accused Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad of making “no effort” to implement Annan’s peace plan.
“If the regime’s intransigence continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat and work to address the serious threat to peace and stability being perpetrated by the Assad regime,” White House Spokesman Jay Carney said, adding that “political transition is urgently needed in Syria. It is certainly our hope that the Annan plan succeeds.”
- White House: Syria cease-fire plan ‘has not been succeeding’ (theuglytruth.wordpress.com)
- Obama spokesman on Syria ceasefire: We may have to ‘admit defeat’ (abcnews.go.com)
NEW YORK, (SANA) – The UN security council on Saturday unanimously adopted a resolution on deploying 300 unarmed observers in Syria on preliminary basis for three months to monitor the ceasefire.
The resolution calls on the Syrian government to support the observers mission by helping deploy its members and provide transport for them without hindrances, calling upon the UN and Syria to reach an agreement on providing the planes needed by the mission.
The resolution also called on all sides in Syria to guarantee the safety of the mission members, stressing that the primary responsibility regarding the observers’ safety falls upon the government.
The Russian resolution stipulates that the deployment of the observer mission will be evaluated by the UN Secretary General based on relevant developments on the ground, including the cessation of violence.
The resolution called upon all sides in Syria to cease violence, saying that the cessation which has been achieved so far is clearly imperfect.
Al-Jaafari: Syria Showed Full Cooperation and Commitment to Annan’s Plan
In a speech during the Council session, Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari said that some of the statements made during this session called upon Syria to implement the Council’s resolution while those who made the statements themselves are moving away from it.
He said that he met with the UN Secretary General and senior aides on Saturday and appealed to him to exert good offices and be more involved in the efforts to guarantee applying the desired political and national solution to resolve the crisis, adding “this is a good opportunity to appeal to you all and address to you the same appeal which I addressed to the Secretary General.”
Al-Jaafari said that the Syrian government was open to any honest and neutral initiatives and efforts since the beginning of the crisis to help emerge from it while preserving Syria’s sovereignty, independent national decision, security and stability, with Syria showing great cooperation and commitment to Annan’s efforts.
He affirmed that Syria implemented its part of Annan’s plan and is still committed to this, and that it’s updating Annan on regular daily basis with written reports on steps taken in this regard, which includes releasing detainees who did not shed blood, delivering humanitarian aid to affected areas in cooperation with OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), and allowing over 600 media outlets to enter Syria.
Al-Jaafari said that the Syrian government on Sunday informed Annan that it carried out the second article of his plan completely, saying that police and law-enforcement forces will be charged with keeping peace and order and will show the utmost self-restraint while remaining ready to confront armed terrorist groups should they continue to breach the cessation of violence, while the Syrian Arab Army will remain prepared to defend Syria from any attack and secure strategic sites.
He noted that sending neutral observers was originally a Syrian demand based on self-confidence and a position of strength, and that the reason behind such a demand is to inform the world public opinion of the terrorists’ crimes away from media and political misdirection, noting that this happened with the Arab League observers who presented an objective report documenting the crimes of terrorists, which prompted Qatar and Saudi Arabia to withdraw their observers, suspend the entire mission, and ignore their report completely.
Al-Jaafari added that Syria renewed cooperation and openness by signing the preliminary agreement organizing the operations of UN observers in Syria, and that the Syrian government is ready to sign the protocol organizing the deployment of observers when the UN is ready, stressing that Syria has a true interest in ensuring the success of the observer mission, with emphasis on the need for the observers to be objective, neutral and profession.
“Some sides responded on this clear commitment by the Syrian government by carrying out a hysterical campaign of doubt that unveiled ill intentions on their parts on principle regarding Syria, accentuating their strong frustration over the signs of returning stability and calm to Syria,” he said.
He went on to note that terrorists answered the Syrian government’s commitment to Annan’s plan with a long series of violations, with them intensifying their terrorism and attacks against civilians, law-enforcement forces and public and private facilities, saying that the Syrian government provided Annan, Ki-moon and the Security Council with detailed information on the violations made by armed groups after the beginning of the ceasefire on April 12th, adding that the violations number over 593 as of Saturday.
Al-Jaafari voiced Syria’s deep concern over the continuing of the suspicious disregard of terrorist activities which were accompanied by a methodical media and political misdirection campaign aiming to demonize the Syrian authorities and army by blaming the terrorists’ crimes on the Syrian state and manipulate public opinion by twisting facts and employing a total media blackout regarding the terrorists’ crimes.
“All these practices aim at foiling Annan’s mission and ascribing the responsibility of this failure to the Syrian government in order to reach military action under humanitarian excuses, similarly to the lies that led to the destruction of Libya’s infrastructure and the death of 150,000 Libyan civilians at the hands of NATO with Qatar’s participation,” he said.
Syria’s Representative stressed the need for Annan and the Security Council to deal with the Syrian crisis comprehensively by exerting efforts to ensure that armed groups and those supporting them are committed to the cessation of violence in order for this cessation to be sustainable, reiterating that Syria’s support alone isn’t enough to ensure the success of Annan’s efforts, as Arab, regional and international sides must commit in words and actions to stopping the funding, arming, training and encouragement of armed groups, as well as stopping their instigation of the Syrian opposition to reject dialogue.
“Some who predict the failure of Annan’s plan are doing their best to fulfill this ominous prediction… the best example of this is the statements of the Emir of Qatar in Rome only two days after the Security Council adopted resolution no. 2042 when he said that the chances of Annan’s plan to succeed don’t exceed 3%,” al-Jaafari said, adding that some countries are also creating parallel tracks to Annan’s plan that could undermine it and waste the efforts for reaching a peaceful solution, with these tracks including the conferences held in Tunis, Istanbul and Paris which pass plans outside international legitimacy to arm the opposition, reject peaceful solutions, and imposing sanctions on the Syrian people.
He noted that sometimes there’s boasting of increasing sanctions as if harming the Syrians and taking away their livelihood and rights to development and stability is a major victory.
“It’s a paradox that after every Syrian openness in dealing with any political proposition, a conference is held in parallel to fan the flames of the crisis, push towards removing the solution from its peaceful outline, and undermine any positive solution to resolve the crisis without shedding the blood of Syrian civilians and military personnel,” al-Jaafari said.
He pointed out that the absolute truth among Syrians is their rejection of interference in their country’s internal affairs, commitment to protecting their country’s sovereignty, continuing with reform and national dialogue, and not allowing time to be turned back to any form of subjugation or custodianship or occupation, be it direct or indirect.
“The Syrians know full well that the forces who have ill intents for Syria are targeting them all and trading with their pain and legitimate ambitions in the bloody stock market controlled by the interests of Israel and its governments and allies,” he said.
Al-Jaafari concluded by addressing a statement made by Germany’s Representative who voiced his country’s commitments to protecting “minorities” in Syria, stressing that there are no minorities in Syria; rather only Syrians who are proud of their cultural and religious diversity and don’t want Wahabi and Salafi extremism to sneak among them through oil money and religious and sectarian incitement which is preached by some Qatari and Saudi channels.
Churkin: Countries that Have Influence on Opposition Should Encourage it to Stop Violence, Apply Annan Plan
Russia’s Permanent UN Envoy Vitaly Churkin stressed that the resolution adopted today by the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) on the deployment of UN observers in Syria sends an important international message.
In his speech before the UN Security Council, Churkin said this resolution shows that only the UNSC has the right to make resolutions for resolving regional crises such as the Syrian crisis.
The Russian Envoy added that any group of friends or countries with interests or any other party must clearly abide by the UNSC resolutions and not undermine the possibility of implementing it.
Churkin affirmed the importance of this resolution to push the process of peaceful settlement in Syria forward besides [its] being embodies a unity and consensus of the Council regarding Annan’s six point plan.
Churkin stressed that all external sides related to the crisis in Syria should act in a responsible manner, adding that “The Syrians themselves should determine the destiny of their country.”
He made it clear that any attempt to impose outside powers on the Syrian people could exacerbate the crisis, calling on countries that have an influence on the opposition to encourage it to stop violence and apply Annan’s plan.
Baodong Reiterates China’s Commitment to peaceful Solution to Syria’s Crisis
For his part, China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Li Baodong, reiterated Beijing’s commitment to reaching a peaceful solution to Syria’s crisis and within the framework of respecting the will of the Syrian people and keenness on Syria’s territorial integrity.
In his speech before the UN Security Council, Baodong added that Annan represents an important channel to solve the crisis in Syria, calling upon all Syrian sides to completely cooperate with Annan in order to launch a political process led by Syria.
Baodong stressed his country’s rejection of all efforts and statements that could hinder Annan’s mission, hoping that the monitors’ mission will fully respect Syria’s sovereignty and work in accordance to the authorization granted by the Council.
For his part, South Africa’s Representative stressed the importance of supporting Annan’s plan in order to reach a peaceful solution for the crisis in Syria through political dialogue that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people and ensures the unity and the territorial integrity of the country.
In turn, Azerbaijan’s Representative stressed his country’s support to Annan’s mission and the importance of respecting Syria’s sovereignty and unity.
India’s Representative said that the efforts of Annan contributed to improving the situation in Syria, calling upon all sides to adhere to Annan’s plan in order to reach a full ceasefire.
He highlighted that the international observers should implement their duties in an objective and neutral manner with the aim of starting a comprehensive political process led by Syria to meet the aspirations of the Syrian people.
For his part, Pakistan’s Representative expressed his country’s hope that Annan’s plan will lead to a full cessation of violence and creating the appropriate circumstances to carry out a political process that will respect Syria’s sovereignty and lead to a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Guatemala’s Representative stressed his country’s support to Annan’s mission and to all efforts exerted with the aim of restoring peace and stability to Syria.
Colombia’s Representative also stressed his country’s support to the monitors’ mission in Syria, adding that the current proposal is ideal and typical.
As for the western countries’ representatives, they continued their deliberate disregard of the acts committed by the armed terrorist groups which claimed the lives of hundreds of citizens and army and law-enforcement personnel.
The French Representative renewed his country’s incitement against Syria, laying the responsibility of the armed terrorist groups’ violence on the Syrian government.
He urged the Syrian government to immediately adhere to Annan’s plan and mentioned nothing about the fact that the opposition didn’t show any commitment to the same plan until now.
Similarly, Germany’s Representative recited a stream of lies and false allegations against the Syrian government, twisting the facts by alleging that the Syrian government is the side that is committing kidnapping, torture and violence against children, women and “minorities.”
The U.S. Representative, oblivious to her country’s deception of the international community when it waged a war on Iraq under false allegations of nuclear weapons, announced the failure of the observers’ mission before it even started, alleging that their presence will not make the Syrian government stop violence.
The U.S. representative, whose country murdered millions of innocent around the world, defended the acts of the armed opposition, alleging that the opposition welcomed the presence of the observers.
Churkin: This is the First Time During the Syrian Crisis that the Security Council was Able to Express Itself in Support of a Positive Political Plan
In a press conference following the Security Council session, Churkin said that this session marks the first time during the Syrian crisis that the Security Council was able to express itself in support of a positive political plan and strategy and to support with practical steps through the deployment of observers.
Churkin said that when the Council adopted resolution no. 2043, it affirmed its responsibility for security and peace in the Syrian crisis, hoping that the international community and various groups will respect the Council’s decision and authority and act accordingly.
He welcomed the decision and hoped that the observer mission will play its role in supporting stability in Syria, noting that the resolution doesn’t address only the Syrian government, but also the opposition, asking it to cease violence, support observers and commit to Annan’s plan.
Churkin noted that the observer mission’s jurisdiction suits the arrangements made by the UN General Secretariat and the Syrian government, adding that the decision is the responsibility of the UN and the Syrian government and that they should work to make all necessary arrangements.
On the U.S. stance, Churkin said that he had hoped that the statements would be more in line with the spirit of the resolution, but some of the speakers wasted a chance to address the opposition, adding that negative expectations are more akin to predictions.
He added that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem informed Annan that the Syrian government carried out the second article of the plan and withdrew armored vehicles and military forces from cities.
Churkin hoped that the political momentum is a positive sign, calling for abandoning threats and negative expectations and staying the course which the Security Council finally managed to support rather than returning to conflict scenarios which proved to be dangerous and likely to lead to further escalation.
He stressed that Russia isn’t against the opposition, saying “we’re doing the right thing and we’re comfortable for our stance,” noting that Russia worked hard to put the Security Council on the right track, adding that there are forces who don’t want this strategy to succeed and have other plans which aren’t useful and will weaken Annan’s plan.
Churkin said that the observers are facing monumental tasks, thus they must be respected and provided with all the conditions needed by them to carry out their work successfully.
On the observers’ nationalities, he said that there are no information of specific agreements in this regard, noting that the Syrian government approved of the candidates.
In response to a question on a full ban on weapons, Churkin said that even if such a ban succeeded with the Syrian government, then there will be those who deny that and continue to provide weapons to opposition groups, similar to what happened in prior experiences.
M.Nassr / Ghossoun / H. Sabbagh
- Syria Welcomes New UN Resolution, Observers to Arrive Late Sunday (alethonews.wordpress.com)
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The truce in Syria is still very fragile and all the influential parties on either side of the conflict should be guided by the interests of the Syrian people rather than their own ambitions, says Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“Indeed, there are forces which are interested in the failure of the Kofi Annan plan, they were saying that even before the plan was released,” Lavrov stated on Tuesday. “And they are doing their best to make their wish come true through arms deliveries to opposition forces and by encouraging militants’ activities.”
This leads to retaliation measures from the government Lavrov added, “so that things are not going smoothly” for now.
Kofi Annan’s peace plan implies a ceasefire under the control of the United Nations, providing humanitarian aid to the victims of the conflict and starting dialogue between the conflicting sides. The proposal was unanimously adopted by the Security Council on March 21.
The Russian Foreign Minister also said that “some countries, some external forces are not interested in the success of the current peaceful efforts of the Security Council.”
These forces he went on to say are trying to substitute the Security Council with various unofficial formats and are using all tools to convince the Syrian opposition no to cooperate with the government.
Lavrov called this stance “counterproductive” and “regrettable”.
- Syria and the Annan Plan: The Devil in the Details (alethonews.wordpress.com)