April 12 deadline over as eyes fixed on Syria

April 12 deadline over as eyes fixed on Syria

April 12 deadline over as eyes fixed on Syria

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) seen with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan at Qeshm Island, Hormozgan province on April 11. Annan says there was still hope to salvage his tottering peace plan for Syria.

Peace envoy Kofi Annan said there was still a chance to salvage his plan to halt hostilities within hours of the truce deadline, despite Syrian forces continuing to pound protest hubs yesterday, in the face of mounting pressure from world powers.

Annan rejected calls to arm rebels, saying such a move would be “disastrous,” while China joined calls for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to respect the former U.N. chief’s plan to end 13 months of violence.

Annan said both the Syrian government and opposition had assured him they would respect a cease-fire. “If everyone respects [the cease-fire], I think by six o’clock on Thursday the 12th … we should see a much improved situation on the ground,” Annan said, speaking in Tehran.

Damascus has given “further clarifications” over how it plans to implement its side of the plan, he said. “What they want is an assurance that the other forces, the opposition forces, also stop the fighting, so we can see a cessation of all the violence.”

Annan also urged Iran to help resolve the violence and warned of “unimaginable consequences” if it worsened further, at a news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. “I have received the [Syrian] government’s assurances that they will respect the ceasefire,” he said. “I believe Iran can be part of the solution.”

Iran backs al-Assad

Salehi said Syrians should be able to have free elections contested by political parties, but reiterated Iran’s opposition to any outside interference in Syria’s affairs and made clear that Iran wanted al-Assad to stay in charge. “The opportunity must be given to the Syrian government to make changes under the leadership of al-Assad,” he said.

Annan also rejected the option of arming the uprising, as proposed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “I’ve always said the militarization of the conflict will be disastrous,” he said.

Beijing, meanwhile, has stepped in and urged Damascus to abide by the peace plan.

“China once again calls on the Syrian government to … fully implement the commitment of the ceasefire and withdrawal of troops,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Weimin said. “At the same time, the Syrian opposition should also immediately stop fire,” he said.

Despite the Syrian regime’s promises to Annan, Syrian troops pummeled opposition neighborhoods in the city of Homs with heavy mortar fire yesterday. Regime forces killed at least three civilians according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Explosions and heavy gunfire were heard in Damascus and the southern Daraa province. Shells and rockets were fired into Khaldiyeh, a stronghold of regime opponents, the Observatory reported.

Cease-fire at risk: Annan letter

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Annan said on April 10 that Syria had failed to pull troops and heavy military equipment out of cities and towns and that the regime’s last-minute conditions had put the entire cease-fire at risk.

Russia also pressured Damascus to implement the Annan plan, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying yesterday that “their action could have been more active (and) more decisive.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on April 10 she would meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on April 11 to seek a policy change from one of al-Assad’s few foreign friends. “We will have another go at trying to persuade the Russians that the situation is deteriorating and the likelihood of regional conflict and civil war is increasing,” she said.

Clinton also said Russia’s refusal to support constructive action by the U.N. Security Council is helping to keep President al-Assad in power.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.