Russia 'keeping Assad in power'11/04/2012 - 07:38:52
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton vowed today to pressure Russia over the Syria crisis, saying its refusal to support action by the United Nations Security Council was keeping President Bashar Assad in power.
Mrs Clinton said the US would again try to persuade Russia, a key Syrian ally, to support action that would at least allow humanitarian access, when foreign ministers of the G-8 meet in Washington today.
She warned that the danger was rising of regional conflict and civil war flaring from the violence in Syria.
Russia’s “refusal to join us in some kind of constructive action is keeping Assad in power, well-armed, able to ignore the demands of his own people, the region and the world,” she said.
Her comments came after Syrian troops defied a UN-brokered ceasefire plan yesterday, launching fresh attacks on rebellious areas.
But UN special envoy Kofi Annan said there was still time to salvage a truce that he described as the only chance for peace.
More than a year into the Syrian uprising, the international community has nearly run out of options for halting the slide towards civil war. Yesterday former UN secretary general Mr Annan insisted his peace initiative remained “very much alive” – in part because there was no viable alternative.
The UN has ruled out any military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and several rounds of sanctions and other attempts to isolate Assad have done little to stop the bloodshed.
“If you want to take (the plan) off the table, what will you replace it with?” Mr Annan said in Hatay, Turkey, where he toured a camp sheltering Syrian refugees.
Facing a Tuesday deadline to pull back its tanks and troops, the Syrian government had said it was withdrawing from certain areas, including the rebellious central province of Homs. But France called the claims a “flagrant and unacceptable lie” and activists said there was no sign of a withdrawal.
People in Homs reported some of the heaviest shelling in months.
“Hundreds of mortar rounds and shells were falling around all day,” Tarek Badrakhan said. He said a makeshift hospital housing wounded people and dozens of corpses was destroyed in the shelling.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, obtained by The Associated Press, Mr Annan said Syria had not pulled troops and heavy military equipment out of cities and towns and that the regime’s last-minute conditions put the entire ceasefire at risk.
The council strongly backed Mr Annan, with all 15 members – including Syrian allies China and Russia – urging Syria’s leaders to halt all military action so a ceasefire can take effect at 6am tomorrow, as called for by Mr Annan’s plan. It also called on the opposition to stop all violence if the Syrian forces halt attacks.
“Obviously, members of the council are unified in their grave concern that this deadline has passed and the violence has not only continued but over the last 10 days has intensified,” said Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN and this month’s council president.
Mrs Clinton said Mr Annan’s report made clear that “Assad is not complying with the commitments that he made under the six-point plan and that, in fact, violence has only gotten worse over this last week”.
French foreign minister Alain Juppe accused Assad of lying and flouting Syria’s commitments. “Not only has the use of heavy weapons not ended ...but what was presented as a withdrawal is in fact only a thinly disguised redeployment,” he said.
According to Mr Annan’s peace plan, the pullback of Syrian forces was supposed to be followed by a full ceasefire by all within 48 hours. The halt in fighting would then pave the way for an observer mission and talks between both sides over the country’s future.
After 13 months of bloodshed, a revolt that began as a mostly peaceful movement against Assad’s stagnant and entrenched regime has turned into an uprising.
The UN estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising began, and the toll climbs every day. Regime forces assault their opponents with tanks, machine guns and snipers and the Free Syrian Army rebel group launches frequent attacks against government targets, killing soldiers and security forces.
Syria’s main opposition group said about 1,000 people had been killed in regime attacks in the last eight days alone, a figure that could not be independently confirmed.
The conflict is among the most explosive of the Arab Spring, in part because of Syria’s web of allegiances to powerful forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Shiite powerhouse Iran.
Western leaders have pinned their hopes on Mr Annan’s diplomatic pressure, with the US and others unwilling to get deeply involved in another Arab nation in turmoil – particularly one as unpredictable as Syria.
Russia and China had blocked strong action by the security council, giving Assad a significant layer of protection as his crackdown continues.
Meanwhile, international envoy Mr Annan appealed to Syria’s key ally Iran to support his plan to end the violence, saying that “any further militarisation of the conflict would be disastrous”.
Mr Annan spoke to reporters after talks on Tuesday with foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
The UN-Arab League envoy has been pushing Damascus to withdraw its troops from cities and halt all violence in 48 hours to salvage his peace plan.
He said in Tehran that he and his host agreed on the need to “find a peaceful solution to the crisis” and he voiced optimism that the situation on the ground would improve by tomorrow morning.
Mr Salehi insisted that “change in Syria” should come under the leadership of Assad.
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