Assad rebuffs Annan's nudge

Assad rebuffs Annan's nudge

Terrorists blocking solution to crisis, says Syrian president

President Bashar al-Assad told UN/Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on Saturday that no political solution was possible in Syria while “terrorist” groups were destabilising the country.

same pose: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (right) with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in Damascus on Saturday. AFp

“Syria is ready to make a success of any honest effort to find a solution for the events it is witnessing,” state news agency SANA quoted Assad as telling his guest.

“No political dialogue or political activity can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability,” the Syrian leader said after about two hours of talks with the former UN secretary-general.

While they discussed Annan’s peace mission, Syrian troops were assaulting the northwestern city of Idlib, a rebel bastion.

“Regime forces have just stormed into Idlib with tanks and heavy shelling is now taking place,” said an activist contacted by telephone, the sound of explosions punctuating the call.

There was no immediate comment from Annan after his meeting with Assad, aimed at halting bloodshed that has cost thousands of lives since a popular uprising erupted a year ago.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met Annan in Cairo earlier in the day, told the Arab League his country was “not protecting any regime”, but did not believe the Syrian crisis could be blamed on one side alone.

He called for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid access, but Qatar and Saudi Arabia sharply criticised Moscow's stance. Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country has led calls for Assad to be isolated and for Syrian rebels to be armed, said a ceasefire was not enough. Syrian leaders must be held to account and political prisoners freed, he declared.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said shortcomings in the UN Security Council, where Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions on Syria, had allowed the killing to go on.

International rifts have paralysed action on Syria, with Russia and China opposing Western and Arab calls for Assad, who inherited power from his father nearly 12 years ago, to quit.

Annan also planned 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 long gone. “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.

“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.

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