Russia seeks truce, Syria readies for referendum
MOSCOW/DAMASCUSRussia called Feb. 24 for an urgent ceasefire in the Syrian city of Homs and urged both the government and “armed groups” to cooperate with humanitarian relief efforts, while the Syrian government is expected to hold a referendum on its constitution Feb. 26.
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concern” about violence in Homs and other Syrian cities and said it must end, but maintained Moscow’s position that both sides were responsible for the bloodshed, not just President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Russia also said humanitarian relief must not lead to military interference, which it opposes. Syrian government forces have been bombarding the opposition stronghold of Homs, almost a year into a revolt against al-Assad that has left thousands dead.
Meanwhile, Syria is expected to hold a referendum on a new constitution Feb. 26 to be followed by a multi-party parliamentary election, which al-Assad said is a response to calls for reform. The plan is supported by his allies Russia and China, but Western powers have dismissed it and the Syrian opposition has called for a boycott.
Kofi Annan to handle Syria crisis
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis gained pace Feb. 23 with the appointment of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisis.
Annan said in a statement Feb. 24 he would try to “help bring an end to the violence and human rights abuses and promote a peaceful solution” in Syria. He expressed hope the Syrian government and opposition groups would cooperate with him in his efforts. Turkey welcomed the appointment of Annan as the U.N.’s and Arab League’s joint special envoy for Syria, Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement Feb. 24.
Russia also praised plans to send Annan to Syria as a joint U.N.-Arab League envoy. The Foreign Ministry said Russia hoped Annan could help “resolve the serious political and humanitarian issues on the basis of work with all sides.”
Russia says al-Assad’s resignation must not be a precondition for a settlement process in Syria. Annan’s appointment came at a time when Syrian government troops shelled rebel-held areas in central Syria on Feb. 24, killing at least four people, activists said.
Thousands of people in dozens of towns across Syria staged anti-regime protests under the slogan: “We will revolt for your sake, Baba Amr,” referring to the besieged Homs neighborhood that has become the center of the Syrian revolt. Activists said Syrian security forces lined up and shot dead at least 18 people in a village in central Syria Feb. 24, including seven members of the same family. “12 of the people killed were shot in the head,” an activist in Hama told Reuters.
The Red Cross said Feb. 24 it was trying to reach foreign journalists who were wounded during fighting in the Syrian city of Homs.
French journalists Edith Bouvier and William Daniels have asked for help leaving the embattled city after Bouvier was wounded in the shelling Feb. 22 that killed two Western journalists. The Red Cross has appealed to Syria’s government and opposition groups to allow daily two-hour cease-fires so it can deliver relief supplies and evacuate the wounded and sick.
Compiled from AFP, Reuters and AP stories by the Daily News staff