International envoy Kofi Annan has arrived in Damascus for a third round of talks with President Bashar al-Assad amid increasing indications that his peace plan is a lost cause.
The Sunday visit comes a day after Annan, appointed by the Arab League and United Nations, acknowledged in an interview with a French newspaper that efforts to find a political solution to the escalating violence in Syria have failed.
Annan arrived with Faisal Mekdad, Syria's deputy foreign minister, at the Dama Rose hotel in the capital, where UN observers have been staying since suspending their patrols because of a steep increase in violence, a witness told the Reuters news agency.
Annan is the architect of a six-point plan to end the 16-month crisis, which activists say has left more than 16,000 people dead.
In an interview with Le Monde on Saturday, Annan, a former UN secretary-general, said that "the evidence shows that we have not succeeded."
The plan was to begin with a ceasefire in mid-April between government forces and rebels seeking to topple Assad, but the truce dissolved within days and in some places never took hold.
A statement issued on Sunday by Ahmad Fawzi, Annan's spokesman, did not give details of the envoy's schedule in Damascus.
His visit comes after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Sunday that time was running out to save Syria from a "catastrophic assault" and as dozens more people were reportedly killed across the country.
'Russia wields influence'
In his interview with Le Monde, Annan stressed that those opposed to Western plans for resolving the crisis should not be sidelined.
"Russia wields influence, but I am not sure that the events will be determined by Russia alone ... Iran is an actor. It has to be part of the solution. It has influence and we cannot ignore it," Annan told the French newspaper.
He also expressed irritation that while Russia and Iran were mentioned by some as stumbling blocks to peace, "little is said about other countries which send arms, money, and have a presence on the ground".
More than 30 people were killed on Sunday during a government bombardment and clashes between Syrian forces and Free Syrian Army rebels fighting to oust Assad, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a small activist group in London.
Activists reported heavy shelling in residential areas of Deir Az Zor and in Deraa province, the birthplace of the revolt near the Jordanian border.
Rami Abdelrahman, who runs the observatory, said residents of al-Sharifa in the wider Deir Az Zor province were reporting that rebels had taken a tank and were using it to attack army positions.
The rebels have gained confidence in recent weeks, staging bolder attacks, holding pockets of territory across the country and clashing with troops only a few miles from the presidential palace in Damascus.