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Annan ends Syria trip with no deal

12 March 2012, 08:05

Beirut - International envoy and former UN chief Kofi Annan left Syria on Sunday without a deal to end the bloody year-old conflict as regime forces mounted a new assault on rebel strongholds in the north.

Annan said he presented President Bashar Assad with concrete proposals "which will have a real impact on the ground".

"Once it's agreed, it will help launch the process and help end the crisis on the ground," he told reporters at the end of his two-day visit to Syria.

Annan, who also met with Syrian opposition leaders and businessmen in Damascus, said he was optimistic following two sets of talks with Assad, but acknowledged that resolving the crisis would be tough.

"It's going to be difficult but we have to have hope," he said.

The former UN chief called for reforms that would create "a solid foundation for a democratic Syria", but added: "You have to start by stopping the killing and the misery and the abuse that is going on today and then give time for a political settlement."

The ongoing bloodshed cast a pall over the UN efforts to end the country's yearlong conflict, with both the regime and the opposition refusing talks with the other.


In his discussions with Assad on Saturday, Annan made several proposals to end the political crisis and start a political dialogue.

He was rebuffed by the president who rejected any immediate negotiations with the opposition, striking a further blow to already faltering international efforts for talks to end the conflict.

Assad told Annan that a political solution is impossible as long as "terrorist groups" threaten the country.

The opposition's political leadership has also rejected dialogue, saying talk is impossible after a crackdown that the UN estimates has killed more than 7 500 people. That makes it likely that the conflict will continue to edge toward civil war.

Annan left Syria later on Sunday, headed for Qatar, a UN spokesperson said.

Idlib province

Syrian forces, meanwhile, kept up an offensive against rebel strongholds in the north of the country and shelled neighbourhoods in the restive central city of Homs, as well as clashing with rebel fighters across the country.

Military units loyal to Assad appear to have been freed up after finally crushing lightly armed rebels in the Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr last week, and are on the attack in Idlib province, across the border from key opposition supply bases in Turkey.

Troops on Saturday launched a long-anticipated assault to crush the opposition in Idlib province, bombarding its main city with tank shells from all sides and clashing with rebel fighters struggling to hold back an invasion.

Syrian forces had been building up for days around Idlib, the capital of a hilly, agricultural province along the Syria-Turkey border that has been a hotbed of protests against Assad's regime.

A Turkish official said the violence had led to a spike in Syrian civilians fleeing to Turkey.

About 1 000 have crossed the border in the past week as opposed to 1 000 in the previous month, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under government protocol.

Turkey now hosts about 12 500 Syrians - part of the more than 100 000 refugees who have fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.




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