Moscow to support Annan’s Syria plan
MOSCOW / DAMASCUS
Syrian army soldiers raid a building as they search for Syrian rebels in a suburb of Damascus, Syria, on Tuesday, March 20, 2012. AP photoRussia said yesterday it could back either a U.N. Security Council statement or a resolution on peace envoy Kofi Annan’s proposal on ending the Syria crisis as long as it contained no ultimatums. Meanwhile security forces killed at least 16 civilians in violence across the country.
In a fresh effort to form a united international front on the mounting crisis, France has circulated a Western-drafted statement for the U.N. Security Council deploring the turmoil and backing peace efforts by U.N.-Arab League envoy Annan.
Britain’s U.N. envoy said he hoped the statement would be adopted yesterday, with Russia announcing it would back the text on two conditions -- that there are no ultimatums and that Annan releases full details of his peace plan.
“We are ready to support [Annan’s] proposals to the U.N. Security Council, and not only in the form of a statement but also a resolution,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.
“The Security Council should support them not as an ultimatum, but as a basis for the continuing efforts by Kofi Annan aimed at reaching accord between all the Syrians, the government and all opposition groups on all key issues, such as humanitarian corridors, halting hostilities by all parties, the beginning of a political dialogue and offering access to the media,” Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, the fierce clashes between security forces and rebels continued in Damascus. Abu Omar, an activist in Damascus, said security forces were deployed in force in most districts of the capital, especially around Abbasid Square, while they also raided several outlying towns, including Douma and Dmeir.
Government troops also shelled residential areas in the cities of Hama and Homs and the nearby town of Rastan, killing at least 10 people, while a soldier died in a raid on an army checkpoint in the south, opposition sources said.
The lightly-armed rebel forces have been forced into retreat across the country in recent weeks, with the army using heavy arms to chase them from towns and cities, chalking up its latest victory in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, which lies on the road to Iraq.
“Tanks entered residential neighborhoods, especially in southeastern areas of Deir al-Zor. The Free Syrian Army pulled out to avoid a civilian massacre,” a statement by the Deir al-Zor Revolution Committees Union said.
In an unusual development, Syrian rebels released an army general, Naeem Khalil Odeh, abducted in the Damascus suburb of Douma in return for prisoners and bodies of insurgents and civilians held by police, an opposition source familiar with the deal said yesterday. The U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called the situation in Syria “unacceptable” and urged the international community to act immediately to end the violence, speaking in Indonesia yesterday during a visit to Southeast Asia.
Meanwhile, Lavrov denied the media reports alleging a Russian military buildup in Syria, saying that a Russian navy oil tanker anchored at the Syrian port of Tartus is on a mission to assist Russian navy ships on anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.
In Brussels, a senior European Union official said yesterday that all member states may close their embassies in Syria following clashes in an upscale neighborhood of Damascus. So far, six EU states have closed their missions in Damascus, and some others who have maintained a presence have reduced staff.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.