Syrian president claims country ready for ‘any honest effort’ to end year of unrest, as bloody crackdown continues
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday to press for a political solution to Syria‘s year-long uprising and bloody crackdown in which thousands of people have been killed.
Assad told Annan his country was ready for “any honest effort” to end a year of unrest, but blamed “terrorist groups” for blocking a solution, the state news agency said.
“Syria is ready to make a success of any honest effort to find a solution for the events it is witnessing,” SANA quoted Assad as saying. “No political dialogue or political activity can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability.”
Annan met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Cairo before flying to Damascus in a mark of the pivotal part Moscow, one of Assad’s few foreign friends, could play in a solution.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov had reiterated Moscow’s calls for an end to violence and the start of dialogue, and emphasised its opposition to foreign interference.
Annan “confirmed his intention of interacting actively with Russia in resolving the Syrian crisis”, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.
Annan also plans to meet Syrian dissidents before leaving Damascus on Sunday. He has called for a political solution, but the opposition says the time for dialogue is over.
“We support any initiative that aims to stop the killings but we reject it if it is going to give Bashar more time to break the revolution and keep him in power,” Melham al-Droubi, a Saudi-based member of the Muslim Brotherhood and of the exiled Syrian National Council, told Reuters by telephone.
“We hope that Annan convinces Bashar to stop the killings, step down and call for a parliamentary election,” he said, expressing scepticism that Assad would respond positively.
Annan’s trip to Damascus followed a violent day in which activists said Assad’s forces killed at least 72 people as they bombarded parts of the rebellious city of Homs and sought to deter demonstrators and crush insurgents elsewhere.
Two soldiers and three rebels were killed in overnight clashes in the town of Daraya on the southeastern outskirts of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Decisive victory has eluded both sides in an increasingly deadly struggle that began as a mainly peaceful protest movement a year ago and now appears to be sliding into civil war.
The United Nations estimates that Syrian security forces have killed well over 7,500 people. Syria said in December that “terrorists” had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.
Lavrov was due to meet Arab foreign ministers in Cairo later in the day on the sidelines of an Arab League meeting on Syria.
Russia and China vetoed a UN draft resolution last month which would have backed an Arab League plan calling for Assad to step aside as part of a detailed transition plan to democracy.
Both countries say they support Annan’s mission, but Russia has resisted Western and Arab demands for Assad to quit, saying no such outcome can be predetermined or imposed from outside.