Annan calls for peace as Syrian army targets rebels


THE SYRIAN army yesterday continued its campaign against rebel forces in the north and south of the country as UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan considered the regime’s response to his peace plan and called for clarifications.

“Given the grave and tragic situation on the ground, everyone must realise that time is of the essence . . . this situation cannot be allowed to drag on,” his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, stated. Mr Annan is due to report to the UN Security Council tomorrow.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said his country was seeking a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis to avert a wider war in the Middle East, on the day that a leading Russian newspaper reported diplomatic warnings that Iran was facing a “last chance” to avoid conflict. “We are not defending the regime but justice, the sovereign right of Syrians themselves to a democratic choice,” Mr Lavrov told Russia’s state duma yesterday.

“Our aim is the achievement of peace in Syria, the preservation of human lives, the prevention of an interfaith explosion in the Middle East region, support for stability . . . The alternative is a destructive civil war with unpredictable regional consequences.”

In Damascus, Syrian official media charged “armed terrorists” with slaying 15 civilians, including children, in a pro-government quarter of Homs. The rebel Free Syrian Army accused government troops of turning anti-aircraft and tank guns on al-Balad district in the southern city of Deraa.

The Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights charged troops with executing injured civilians and their companions en route to hospital in Idlib. Rebels claimed they retaliated by ambushing and killing 22 soldiers.

In a 44-page report based on interviews with dozens of people who fled Syria to Jordan and, in particular, with 19 survivors of torture, Amnesty International has made the case for urgency in ending the Syrian crisis.

Amnesty accused the regime of increasingly engaging in torture. Interviewees said victims were routinely beaten on admission to detention centres and then subjected to various types of torture during interrogation.

Victims were beaten after being forced into a vehicle tyre or suspended so their feet were just above the ground. A student from Deraa said interrogators tore flesh from his legs with pincers; others described abuse by electric shock and cattle prods as well as rape.

Thirty-one types of torture were identified by Amnesty. The organisation said that the testimonies of survivors amounts to fresh evidence of crimes against humanity and reiterated its contention that the regime must be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Moscow rejects criticism of its refusal to take a tougher stance against president Bashar al- Assad, a long-time ally, insisting it was up to Syrians to choose their ruler. Mr Lavrov insisted that Russia was not selling weapons to Damascus for use against peaceful protesters.

Russia and China, which both sell arms to Syria, have blocked efforts led by western and Arab states to increase pressure on Dr Assad with a strong UN resolution.

Mr Lavrov has called draft resolutions one-sided, because they failed to demand that rebel forces respect the same ceasefire terms as Dr Assad’s military. He has also accused unnamed countries of supplying weapons to Dr Assad’s opponents and of seeking to use a UN resolution to engineer regime-change in Damascus. “We are selling weapons to Syria for its national defence, national security,” Mr Lavrov said. “We are not providing Syria with any weapons that could be used against protesters, against peaceful citizens, helping fuel the conflict.”