Annan in favour of negotiated end to crisis


UN-ARAB LEAGUE envoy Kofi Annan yesterday warned against foreign military intervention and militarisation of the crisis in Syria and called on the government and its foes to end violence and work for a peaceful settlement to the year-long conflict.

Following talks in Cairo with Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi, the former UN secretary general said he would “press for a cessation of hostilities and an end to the killing and violence”.

Mr Annan, who is due in Damascus tomorrow, put pressure on both the regime and its opponents by stating: “Ultimately, the solution lies in a political settlement. We will be urging the government and a broad spectrum of the Syrian opposition to come together to work with us to find a solution that will respect the aspirations of the Syrian people.”

While Mr Arabi said no one was considering the military option, Egyptian foreign minister Muhammad Amr warned that an “explosion” in Syria “would not only have internal consequences but will spread to the whole region”. He broke ranks with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have expressed support for arming Syrian rebels, by saying that such action would “lead to an escalation in the military conflict and spark a civil war”.

Turkey has expressed opposition to intervention from outside the region, and Tunisia has rejected non-Arab intervention, while Britain has admitted providing “non-lethal” aid to external opposition groups said to be pursuing a peaceful transition to democracy.

Speaking from his base in Turkey, Riad al-Assad, a colonel in the rebel Free Syrian Army, has flatly rejected the call for a negotiated solution, arguing that Syrians demand nothing less than the ousting of the regime.

However, Toby Dodge, senior fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, has dismissed the rebels as “no direct threat to the regime”. The opposition has hailed the resignation of deputy oil minister Abdo Hussameddin from his post and his membership in the ruling Baath party and defection. He said he was joining “the revolution of the people who reject injustice and the brutal campaign of the regime”. An activist in Beirut said the opposition had helped organise his defection, the first from his level in the government.

While Damascus has not commented on his declaration, Rim Allaf, a senior expert of Syrian origin at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, tweeted: “A deputy minister is not a senior regime figure; not so significant to be real defection, just a resignation with little effect.” Syrian analyst George Jabbour observed that he was a technocrat, one of 100 deputy ministers, and said his resignation was a “minor phenomenon”.

Troop reinforcements have reportedly been sent to the northwestern province of Idlib, a mountainous province bordering on Turkey, presumablyin preparation for an offensive against rebels who have taken over towns and villages in the region. The army has recently attempted to seal the border in order to prevent rebels from retreating into Turkey after conducting attacks on troop convoys.

In Homs, the opposition Local Co-ordination Committees reported that the bodies of 44 people, said to be victims of a reprisal killing, were found in the Jobar area near Bab Amr, which fell to government troops last Friday. Another 12 people were said to have been killed around the country.

Commenting on her brief visit to Bab Amr on Wednesday, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos remarked on the massive devastation she witnessed and expressed concern over the fate of the quarter’s inhabitants.

In New York, Irish national John Ging of the UN Office of the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the UN is pre-positioning $105 million (€79 million) worth of food for 1.5 million people in Syria.