Kofi Annan briefs UN Security Council on Syria plan

Damaged car and buildings in the Old City of Homs (30 March 2012) The UN says at least 9,000 people have been killed since last March

Violence is continuing in Syria as the UN and Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, briefs the Security Council on the progress of his peace plan.

Activists say at least three people have been killed in an army offensive in Idlib province, and there has been fresh fighting in the city of Homs.

There has also been an explosion in central Damascus, state media report.

On Sunday, Gulf Arab states agreed to pay the salaries and other costs of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The money, which will be distributed through the opposition Syrian National Council, is the first formal international support for the FSA.

The decision was announced at a meeting in Istanbul of the "Friends of Syria" - a group of 83 countries backing political change.

Meanwhile, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger, is on his way to Damascus for talks about expanding aid operations and gaining access to all detainees.

During his two-day visit, Mr Kellenberger plans to visit areas affected during the fighting, the ICRC said in a statement. He will also push the ICRC's proposal for a daily two-hour ceasefire to allow aid to be delivered and the wounded to be evacuated.

Last month, after the fall of the rebel district of Baba Amr, in Homs, the Syrian government said it would allow an ICRC convoy into the area.

However, when the convoy reached Baba Amr on 2 March, it was denied permission to enter.

Start Quote

The window of opportunity for the regime to implement its commitments to Joint Special Envoy Annan is not open-ended”

End Quote Friends of Syria meeting communique
'Timeline'

The "Friends of Syria" conference also warned President Bashar al-Assad that he had little time to comply with Mr Annan's peace plan, which he accepted last week.

"The window of opportunity for the regime to implement its commitments to Joint Special Envoy Annan is not open-ended," a statement said.

"The Friends' Group called upon the Joint Special Envoy to determine a timeline for next steps, including a return to the UN Security Council, if the killing continues," it added.

Mr Annan wants a UN-supervised ceasefire by all parties, the withdrawal of soldiers and heavy weapons from cities, the release of prisoners, delivery of humanitarian aid, and free movement for journalists.

On Monday morning, activists said government forces were continuing their offensive on opposition strongholds in Idlib, in Syria's north.

At least one person was killed by gun and shellfire in the village of Hass, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The homes of people who had fled were also set on fire and others were arrested.

Free Syrian Army fighters in Damascus (1 April 2012) Syria's government says "armed terrorists" are behind the violence, which the opposition denies

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) put the death toll at six.

The groups also said two other villages in the nearby Jabal al-Zawiya area - Deir Sunbol and Farkiya - had also been targeted by troops and that at least one person had been killed. The LCC said a child and a youth had died.

There were also reports of heavy shelling in the central city of Homs.

The LCC said a young man was killed by a shell explosion in the Deir Baalba district, and that four members of the Free Syrian Army had died in violent clashes with security forces in several parts of the city.

A bomb also exploded near a police station and hotel in the central Marja district of Damascus, injuring at least four people, state television said. The site was quickly cordoned off by security forces, witnesses said.

The UN says at least 9,000 people have been killed since pro-democracy protests erupted last March. The government says about 3,000 members of the security forces have died combating "armed terrorist gangs".

'Manoeuvring area'

The Friends of Syria meeting accused Damascus of continuing to "deceive the international community" and "manipulate its efforts".

Since the government agreed to Mr Annan's peace initiative last week, attacks by security forces had not ceased, many had lost their lives, and systematic violations of human rights had continued unabated, it said.

US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton: "The world will not waver, Assad must go"

"Against the background of numerous previous failures to fulfil its promises, this emerges as a fresh example of the insincerity of the regime. Therefore, the regime will be judged by its deeds rather than its promises."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that there was "no more time for excuses or delay", adding: "This the moment of truth".

She also said the US would contribute an additional $12.2m (£7.6m) for humanitarian aid and provide "communications equipment" to "help activists organise, evade attacks by the regime, and connect to the outside world".

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu told reporters: "We will see what happens during these days, especially regarding the mission of Kofi Annan, and later we will look at all alternatives".

The Friends' Group also formally recognised the Syrian National Council (SNC) as "a legitimate representative of all Syrians and the umbrella organization under which Syrian opposition groups are gathering".

In a speech, SNC chairman Burhan Ghalioun warned that President Assad would use the peace initiative to prolong the crackdown on dissent.

"No-one should allow this regime to feel at ease or to feel stronger by giving them a longer manoeuvring area," he said. "It's enough that the international community has flirted with the regime in Syria. Something has to change."

The new multi-million-dollar fund for rebel fighters was not publicly announced, but Mr Ghalioun revealed in his speech that the SNC would "take charge of the payment of fixed salaries of all officers, soldiers and others who are members of the Free Syrian Army".

Russia has criticised the decision, saying it contradicts the goal of a peaceful resolution.

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