Assad's fate is unclear in world powers' Syria plan


World powers struck an agreement that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the conflict there but they remained at odds over what part President Bashar al-Assad might play in the process.

Peace envoy Kofi Annan said after the talks in Geneva yesterday the government should include members of Dr Assad's administration and the Syrian opposition and that it should arrange free elections."Time is running out. The conflict must be resolved through peaceful dialogue and negotiations," Mr Annan told reporters.

The talks had been billed as a last-ditch effort to halt the worsening violence in Syria but hit obstacles as Russia, Dr Assad's most powerful ally, opposed Western and Arab insistence that he must quit the scene.

The final communique said the transitional government should be formed "on the basis of mutual consent".

In a victory for Russia, it omitted text in a previous draft which explicitly said the plan would exclude from government anyone whose participation would undermine the transition's credibility and jeopardise stability and reconciliation.

After the meeting, the United States and Russia contradicted each other over what that meant for Dr Assad, who has ruled Syria for 11 years since succeeding his father Hafez and has been condemned internationally for the ferocity of his crackdown on the uprising against him.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was "delighted" with the result. The key point was that the deal did not attempt to impose a process on Syria, he said

It did not imply at all that Dr Assad should step down as there were no preconditions excluding any group from the proposed national unity government, Mr Lavrov said.

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it sent a clear message to Dr Assad that he must quit.

"Assad will still have to go," Ms Clinton told reporters. "What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power."

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said today the text implied Dr Assad would have to step down.

"The text says specifically that there will be a transitional government with all powers ... it won't be Bashar
al-Assad because it will be people that are agreed to by mutual consent.The opposition will never agree to him, so it signals implicitly that Assad must go and that he is finished," Mr Fabius told television station TF1.

Mr Annan convened the meeting at the United Nations complex on the shores of Lake Geneva to salvage a peace plan that has largely been ignored by the Assad government. He said at the opening that the conflict was in danger of growing into a regional and international crisis.

At its conclusion, the Nobel peace laureate fielded a question on whether people with blood on their hands could be part of a transitional government by saying:

"I would doubt that the Syrians who have fought so hard for their independence to be able to have a say in how they are governed and who governs them will select people with blood on their hands to lead them.

"I cannot say that I am really happy but I am content with the outcome today."

Mr Annan's plan for a negotiated solution to the 16-month-old conflict is the only one on the table. More than 10,000 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising began and the past few weeks have been among the bloodiest.

However Syrian opposition groups rejected a UN-brokered plan for peaceful political transition in the country.

Senior figures called the proposals “ambiguous” and a “waste of time”, and vowed not to negotiate with Dr Assad or members of his “murderous” regime.

Veteran Syrian opposition figure Haitham Maleh asked: “Every day I ask myself, ‘Do they not see how the Syrian people are being slaughtered?’

“It is a catastrophe, the country has been destroyed - and they want us then to sit with the killer?”

Mr Maleh described the agreement reached in Geneva as a waste of time and of “no value on the ground”.

“They Syrian people are the ones who will decide the battle on the ground, not those sitting in Geneva or New York or anywhere else,” he said.

There was no reaction from the Syrian regime to the Annan plan, but Dr Assad has repeatedly said his government has a responsibility to eliminate terrorists and will not accept any non-Syrian model of governance.

State-run newspaper Al-Thawra said today that “the Syrians are the ones who can determine their future”.

Dr Assad's government forces killed more than 30 people in Damascus yesterday when they fired a mortar bomb into a funeral procession for a man who died in shelling a day before, said opposition activists.

Syrian forces swept through the corpse-strewn streets of nearly-deserted opposition districts on the outskirts of the capital today as the conflict enters a new phase of heavier fighting near Dr Assad's seat of power.

Residents of the Zamalka district on the capital's outskirts were struggling today to bury dozens of people killed by the mortar bomb yesterday.

Meanwhile Turkey's armed forces command said today it had scrambled a total of six F-16 fighter jets in three separate incidents responding to Syrian military helicopters approaching the border yesterday, but there was no
violation of Turkish airspace.

It said in a statement four of the jets had scrambled from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey in response to Syrian
helicopters flying south of the Turkish province of Hatay, and two more F-16s took off from a base in Batman after Syrian helicopters were spotted close to the border south of the Turkish province of Mardin.