No ceasefire progress as Annan and Assad meet

Sat, Mar 10, 2012, 00:00

President Bashar al-Assad told the UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan that no political solution was possible in Syria while "terrorist" groups were destabilising the country.

"Syria is ready to make a success of any honest effort to find a solution for the events it is witnessing," state news agency SANA quoted Mr Assad as telling his guest. "No political dialogue or political activity can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability," the Syrian leader said after about two hours of talks with the former UN secretary-general.

There was no immediate comment from Mr Annan after the meeting, aimed at halting bloodshed that has cost thousands of lives since a popular uprising erupted a year ago.

While they discussed the crisis, Syrian troops were assaulting the northwestern city of Idlib, a rebel bastion and 16 rebel fighters, seven soldiers and four civilians were killed in the Idlib fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said 15 other people, including three soldiers, had been killed in violence
elsewhere.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met Mr Annan in Cairo earlier in the day, told the Arab League his country was "not protecting any regime", but did not believe the Syrian crisis could be blamed on one side alone.

He called for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid access, but Qatar and Saudi Arabia sharply criticised Moscow's stance.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who has led calls for Assad to be isolated and for Syrian rebels to be armed, said a ceasefire was not enough. Syrian leaders must be held to account and political prisoners freed, he declared.

"We must send a message to the Syrian regime that the world's patience and our patience has run out, as has the time for silence about its practices," Sheikh Hamad said.Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said shortcomings in the UN Security Council, where Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions on Syria, had allowed the killing to go on.Their position, he said, "gave the Syrian regime a licence to extend its brutal practices against the Syrian people".

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are both ruled by autocrats and espouse a strict version of Sunni Islam, are improbable champions of democracy in Syria. Riyadh has an interest in seeing Assad fall because this could weaken its Shi'ite regional rival Iran, which has been allied with Syria since 1980.