Tuesday 27 March 2012
[local time] 21:56 The Lebanese army found a weapons depot in the Bekaa area of Masharee al-Qaa and arrested ten gunmen, six of whom are Syrian and four Lebanese, NBN television reported.
21:51 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed Tuesday to push the Syrian opposition for a “unified vision” that protects the rights of all Syrians when she attends weekend talks in Istanbul.
21:48 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that Syria’s reported acceptance of a peace plan by UN-Arab Leagues special envoy Kofi Annan must be matched by “immediate actions” like halting gunfire.
20:31 The United States said Tuesday that Syria’s reported acceptance of a peace plan by UN envoy Kofi Annan is an “important step,” but the proof will be in the actions the Assad regime takes.
20:01 Many Syrian army soldiers defected in the town of Madaya, near Damascus, after which the army started shelling the area, activists told Al-Jazeera.
19:01 Western nations gave a cautious welcome to President Bashar al-Assad’s acceptance of a UN-Arab League peace plan for Syria as the UN increased its death toll estimate for the uprising to more than 9,000.
17:52 Security forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army clashed in the area of Deir az-Zour, activists told Al-Jazeera television station.
17:25 The United Nations on Tuesday increased its death toll estimate for the Syria unrest to more than 9,000.
17:18 Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in violence linked to a year-long anti-regime uprising in Syria, the overwhelming majority of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday.
17:11 Syria’s regime is committing human rights atrocities, including torture of men arbitrarily detained by security forces, that could amount to “crimes against humanity,” US envoy Robert Ford said Tuesday.
16:12 Tuesday’s death toll in Syria has reached 28 people killed at the hands of security forces, activists told Al-Jazeera television station.
16:02 Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya on Tuesday commended the statement of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and said it expressed “the reality and essence of the party’s message.”
15:35 The Kurdish National Council withdrew from the Syrian opposition’s meeting held in Istanbul, Al-Jazeera reported.
15:02 Rebels shot at President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, activists told Al-Arabiya television.
14:53 Russia on Tuesday said it would again skip the second Friends of Syria conference to be held this weekend in Istanbul, saying the meeting openly sided with the regime’s opposition.
14:42 UN special envoy Kofi Annan said Tuesday Syria’s acceptance of his plan to end violence in the strife-torn country was “positive” but implementation was key to its success, his spokesperson said.
14:36 At least 13 people were killed on Tuesday across Syria in clashes between regime forces and rebel troops, including near the border with Lebanon, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
13:41 Several hundred members of Syrian opposition movements gathered in Istanbul on Tuesday to hammer out their objectives for an international meeting at the weekend on the Syria crisis.
15:57 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday it was “short-sighted” to think that the crisis in Syria would be solved if President Bashar al-Assad agreed to Western calls to step down.
13:27 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday toured the former rebel stronghold of Baba Amr in Homs, assuring residents that the battered neighborhood would be rebuilt and that normal life would resume.
13:22 The Syrian government must end year-long deadly violence and open talks with its opponents, an Arab summit draft resolution said, also urging the fractured opposition to unify its ranks.
13:15 The government in Damascus has agreed to accept UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan on ending the bloodshed in Syria, the former UN chief’s spokesperson said Tuesday.
12:48 Reuters reported Tuesday that Syrian troops entered northern Lebanon and clashed with Syrian rebels. However, AFP quoted activists as saying that clashes took place on the Syrian side of the border near Masharee al-Qaa and that Syrian troops did not cross into Lebanon. Meanwhile, an eyewitness told NOW Lebanon that the Lebanese army was assisting a Syrian incursion into Lebanon.
12:38 The Syrian army crossed into Masharee al-Qaa in Lebanon’s Bekaa on Tuesday, Future News television reported.
12:22 International envoy Kofi Annan on Tuesday called for China’s help and advice as he met with Premier Wen Jiabao on a trip to Beijing aimed at shoring up support for his plan to end violence in Syria.
11:11 Beijing on Tuesday called on all parties in Syria to cooperate with the mediation efforts of Kofi Annan, as the United Nations and Arab League envoy held talks with Chinese leaders.
9:53 At least eight people, including four civilians, were killed early Tuesday across Syria in clashes between regime forces and rebel troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
8:05 International envoy Kofi Annan will meet China’s premier on Tuesday as he seeks Beijing’s support for his proposal to end violence in strife-torn Syria, after winning Moscow’s full backing.
8:03 The United Nations has received reports that Syrian rebels are using child soldiers in their battle against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, a UN official said Monday.
8:01 A leading member of the UN human rights inquiry into Syria quit on Monday, saying she could not carry on while President Bashar al-Assad blocks outside investigators.
7:55 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was set later in the week to launch a new diplomatic drive aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria, making visits to Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
7:48 MORNING LEADER: Syrian forces on Monday continued their assault across the strife-stricken country, with clashes reported in several Homs neighborhoods and the Damascus province towns of Harasta and Zabadani. Meanwhile, international peace envoy Kofi Annan said that there could be no deadline to ending the year-long crisis.
Syria has accepted a U.N.-sponsored peace plan, international envoy Kofi Annan said on Tuesday, as troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad raided rebel forces who have taken refuge across the border in Lebanon.
The United States reacted skeptically to Annan’s announcement, saying it would judge Assad’s sincerity in agreeing to the peace plan by what he did and not by what he said, given his record of “over-promising and under-delivering.”
Assad made a rare foray into the heartland of Syria’s year-old uprising, visiting a former rebel stronghold in the city of Homs that his forces had overrun after weeks of shelling and gunfire, apparently to make the point that he can now tour the streets of the once bitterly fought-over district.
Syrian state television showed a video of Assad, wearing an open-necked shirt with a blue suit, walking casually in the devastated streets of the Baba Amr district and talking to groups of supporters and troops in combat gear.
Baba Amr was an emblem of opposition and rebel army defiance until it was reclaimed by government forces early this month after 26 days of heavy bombardment which opposition activists said was totally indiscriminate.
“Life will return to normal in Baba Amr, better than it was before,” Assad said.
Activists say hundreds of civilians and opponents of Assad were killed in Baba Amr in February by shelling and snipers.
“He thinks he won and scored a great victory,” said opposition activist Saif Hurria, speaking by telephone from Homs. “He wants to show the world he defeated and put down a revolution. But … it seems he can’t even release the video until he has left Homs. That is not control.”
Opposition supporter Abu Jaafar said Assad’s appearance in Homs was “giving the green light to kill like this again”.
Annan, who represents the United Nations and the Arab League, said through a spokesman that Assad had accepted the basic terms of a peace plan which calls for national dialogue but does not hinge on his leaving office.
However, Annan said earlier on a visit to China that “this is going to be a long difficult task.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reacted coolly. “Given Assad’s history of over-promising and under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate actions,” she told reporters in Washington.
“We will judge Assad’s sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says,” she said, calling on him to order his forces to stop firing and start withdrawing from populated areas.
Western and Arab leaders are due to meet in Istanbul on April 1 to discuss a political transition, and Clinton joined the Arab League and Turkey in pressing various wings of the Syrian opposition to unite.
“They must be able to clearly demonstrate a commitment to including all Syrians and protecting the rights of all Syrians,” she said. “We are going to be pushing them very hard to present such a vision in Istanbul.”
A meeting of Syrian opposition groups that aimed to show they can unite to form an alternative to Assad was marred on Tuesday when a veteran dissident and Kurdish delegates walked out, saying their views were not being heard.
In a session on Monday, the People’s Assembly of Syria called on Assad to postpone parliamentary elections set for May 7 to allow time for what it called the consolidation of comprehensive reforms and the outcome of a national dialogue.
Assad has used the army to crush protests against his 12-year rule but his Alawite Muslim minority and its allies still have substantial popular support in the country.
Annan said his plan calls for withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, humanitarian assistance being allowed in unimpeded, release of prisoners, freedom of movement and access for journalists to go in and out.
The United Nations estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria’s upheaval over the past year, U.N. Middle East envoy Robert Serry told the Security Council. Syrian authorities blame foreign-backed terrorists for the violence and say 3,000 soldiers and police have been killed.
Opposition activists reported several civilian casualties in shooting late Monday and overnight in the cities of Idlib and Homs, in fighting between government forces and rebels.
Video posted on the internet by activists showed thick black smoke and blazing buildings in a district of Homs. There were wounded and bleeding men and women lying in a street.
Syrian troops advanced into north Lebanon, destroying farm buildings in pursuit of Syrian rebels, residents said. Lebanese security sources denied that the Syrian troops had stepped onto Lebanese territory.
The border is poorly marked. Incursions have been reported in the past months without triggering Lebanese protests.
Security appears to be fraying in many parts of Syria despite repeated army offensives to regain rebellious territory. Activists say the government is struggling to hold such areas for long, with rebels swiftly re-emerging, as they have in other parts of Homs.
Western and Arab governments which would be glad to see Assad ousted are wary of what might replace the 40-year-old family dynasty and its ruthless but predictable police state.
Russia and China have shielded Assad from Security Council condemnation by vetoing two Western-backed resolutions over the bloodshed, but approved a Security Council statement this week endorsing Annan’s mission.
Chinese Prime Wen Jiabao told Annan in Beijing that “the efforts to seek a solution to the Syrian crisis are at a critical juncture. We do believe that your mediation efforts will lead to progress in seeking a solution to the Syrian issue”.
The opposition has so far rejected Assad’s calls for dialogue saying it is too late. The crackdown has angered Arab countries including former allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which favor arming the rebels.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Istanbul, Mariam Karouny in Baghdad, Yesim Dikmen in Istanbul, Lou Charbonneau at the UN; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by David Stamp)
(This story corrects the U.N. envoy’s name to Robert Serry)
Syria’s government has agreed to accept the peace plan put forward by the United Nations and Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, his spokesman has said.
Mr Annan said he considered it “an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed”, but implementation was key.
The plan calls for an end to the fighting in a UN-supervised ceasefire.
The opposition, however, says a peacekeeping mission would give President Bashar al-Assad more time.
Humphrey Hawksley reports.