Middle East

Syria crisis: Kofi Annan's calls for talks spark anger

Syrian opposition activists have angrily rejected calls by Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, for dialogue with the government.

The leader of the main opposition, Burhan Ghalioun, said the comments were "disappointing" when Syrians were being "massacred every day".

Mr Annan, who is due in Syria on Saturday, had said a solution lies in a "political settlement".

He also said further militarisation "would make things worse".

Meanwhile UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the Syrian government had agreed to a "limited assessment" of the situation in the country.

At a news conference in the Turkish capital, Ankara, Baroness Amos said she had asked the Syrian government for unhindered access to the worst-hit areas, but the government asked for more time to consider the request.

She has been touring camps on the Turkish-Syrian border to see the situation for around 11,000 Syrian refugees. Earlier in the week she visited Homs, which witnessed heavy fighting.

Tens of thousands of people were again reported to be on the streets across Syria on Friday, protesting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Activists say Syrian troops are massing in northern Idlib province and fear another major assault, as happened in Homs.

The Local Co-ordination Committees group said another 35 people were killed across Syria on Friday, including 13 in Homs, nine in Idlib, three in Hama, two in Damascus and one each in Lattakia and Aleppo.


Mr Ghalioun, speaking to Associated Press, said: "These kind of comments are disappointing and do not give a lot of hope for people in Syria being massacred every day. It feels like we are watching the same movie being repeated over and over again.''

Image caption Activists fear the Free Syrian Army in Idlib could be the next major target

He added: "Any political solution will not succeed if it is not accompanied by military pressure on the regime."

Mr Ghalioun said he hoped Mr Annan would have "a mechanism for ending the violence", but added: "My fear is that, like other international envoys before him, the aim is to waste a month or two of pointless mediation efforts."

Activists inside Syria were also dismissive of the envoy's comments.

Hadi Abdullah, inside Homs, told Reuters: "We reject any dialogue while tanks shell our towns, snipers shoot our women and children and many areas are cut off from the world by the regime without electricity, communications or water."

Mr Annan is scheduled to meet President Assad at the weekend.

In Cairo on Thursday, Mr Annan said: "I hope that no-one is thinking very seriously of using force in this situation. I believe any further militarisation would make the situation worse.

"Ultimately the solution lies in a political settlement."


In other diplomatic moves on Friday, Russia said it could not back a new UN draft resolution on Syria as it was "unbalanced".

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told Interfax: "Its main problem is the absence of a simultaneous call on all sides to take practical steps in the context of ceasing fire."

The draft resolution demands the Syrian government "immediately" ends violence while calling on opposition groups to "refrain from all violence".

Russia and China have jointly vetoed two previous UN Security Council drafts.

Beijing has stepped up its diplomatic efforts, saying it is sending an envoy, Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Ming, to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France to explain its position on Syria.

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the defection to the opposition on Thursday of Syria's deputy oil minister, Abdo Hussameddin, was the "start of the disintegration of the Assad regime".

Mass protests against the Assad government were reported across Syria again on Friday.

Image caption Valerie Amos has been assessing the humanitarian situation in parts of Syria

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were big demonstrations in Daraa, Latakia, Homs, Hama, Deir Ezzor and Aleppo.

Meanwhile, activists and the Observatory said troops backed by tanks were massing in Idlib, near the Turkish border, to target the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Some activists fear Idlib could suffer the same fate as the Baba Amr district of Homs, which was taken by government troops after a massive bombardment campaign.

A number of high-ranking Syrian army officers have defected and fled to Turkey, Turkish media and activists said.

One Turkish media report said two generals and a colonel had crossed the border, while another said it was four brigadier-generals.

The UN says more than 7,500 people have died as a result of the violence in Syria over the past 12 months.

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