Middle East

Syria crisis: Kofi Annan seeks to set up monitoring team

A family escapes from fierce fighting in Idlib, 10 March
Image caption Thousands have fled an army offensive against the rebels in northern Syria

The UN and Arab League envoy on Syria, Kofi Annan, says he is sending a team to Damascus to discuss setting up a new international monitoring mission.

After briefing the Security Council about his peace efforts, Mr Annan renewed calls for an end to fighting and for unimpeded humanitarian aid.

Syria said it was ready to co-operate with Mr Annan, but also reaffirmed its determination to combat "terrorists".

Meanwhile the Turkish government has urged its nationals to leave Syria.

The foreign ministry in Ankara said developments in Syria have led to "serious security risks".

Divided UN

Mr Annan, who held talks with President Bashir al-Assad in Damascus last week, briefed the Security Council in New York via a video link from Geneva on Friday.

In a news conference later, he said: "I will be sending teams in this weekend to pursue the discussions on the proposals we left on the table."

He also restated the main aims of his peace initiative - an immediate ceasefire by both sides, access for humanitarian aid, and the beginning of political dialogue.

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says it is an ambitious plan that at the moment looks more likely to fail than to succeed.

Mr Annan said he had urged the Security Council to speak with "one voice".

The international community remains divided on Syria, with Russia and China both blocking UN Security Council resolutions on Syria and aid groups from 27 countries urging them to condemn the government's use of violence.

But the two permanent members have backed Mr Annan's peace mission.

Mr Annan was speaking a day after the first anniversary of the country's uprising, which has left more than 8,000 people dead.

The violence has continued despite a month-long observer mission sent by the Arab League in December and January. Its aim was to verify implementation of a now defunct peace initiative.

Refugee flow

Fresh protests were held on Friday in cities across Syria - including Idlib in the north where the government has launched a fierce offensive against the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Many anti-government demonstrators called for foreign military intervention. Clashes between rebel fighters and the army were also reported in several parts of the country.

President Assad insists his troops are fighting "armed gangs" seeking to destabilise Syria.

The Turkish foreign ministry on Friday issued a statement saying: "Developments in Syria pose serious security risks for our nationals."

"Therefore it is strongly recommended that Turkish nationals currently in Syria leave and return home."

The ministry also said consular services in Damascus would end at the end of office hours next Thursday, but the consulate in the second city of Aleppo would remain open.

Two Turkish journalists are currently missing in Syria, and are reportedly in the hands of the security forces.

Some reports say they have been wounded and tortured.