Syria ‘accepts’ Annan plan to end crisis

UN-Arab League envoy says Damascus has agreed to implement six-point peace plan for ending conflict in the country.

Bashar al-Assad visits Homs
Annan has met world leaders, including Russia’s Medvedev, to build a consensus on how to resolve the crisis [Reuters]

The Syrian government has agreed to accept the six-point plan by joint United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on ending the violence in Syria, the former UN chief’s spokesman has said.

“The Syrian government has written to the joint special envoy Kofi Annan, accepting his six-point plan, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council,” Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Mr Annan views this as an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfil the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” he added.

Annan, who was in China to seek Beijing’s support for his peace proposal, had written to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asking Damascus to “put its commitments into immediate effect”.

His plan calls on Assad to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from opposition hubs, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, access to all areas affected by the fighting and a UN-supervised halt to all clashes.

Annan will attend talks in Iraq on Thursday to discuss how to move forward with the plan with Arab League leaders.

Arab foreign ministers are meeting in Baghdad to debate a draft resolution calling on Damascus to end the violence and hold talks with the opposition.

Annan to Iran

But Damascus will reject any initiative stemming from the Arab League summit, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday.

“Syria will not co-operate with any Arab League initiative at any level,” spokesman Jihad Makdissi said in a statement to the AFP news agency.

“Given Assad’s history of over-promising and under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate actions.

– Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state

“Since its suspension from the Arab League, Syria has been dealing with member states on a bilateral level.”

Continuing his diplomatic mission, Annan will visit Tehran next week, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Wednesday.

“Kofi Annan is probably coming to Tehran on Monday,” Salehi told reporters on the sideline of a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The foreign minister also said “there are some differences between Iran and Turkey vis a vis the issue of Syria.”

“But we are nearing to closing the gap of differences with the mission of Mr Kofi Annan and with the support of Turkey, Arab nations and the UN we hope there will be a way out for the Syrian issue.”

‘Cautious welcome’

Bassma Kodmani, an executive member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition bloc, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that the SNC “cautiously welcomes the regime’s acceptance of the plan”.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of opposition groups in Istanbul, Kodmani said the SNC would work towards making the plan succeed, but that its demand that Assad step down would not be dropped.

“We do continue to say that we need to see Bashar al-Assad step down. That will never change. For this, thousands of people have sacrificed. There is no way that any representative or credible opposition group can say otherwise. What we are saying here is that if this can open the way for a peaceful transition of power, this is what we would like to see,” she said.

The opposition meeting in Turkey was marred by walkouts by a veteran dissident and several Kurdish leaders, who felt the SNC needed to display greater transparency. Talks will continue on Wednesday, as the opposition attempts to present a unified front ahead of an international contact group meeting on the crisis later this week.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said Syria’s reported agreement had to be backed up with action.

“Given Assad’s history of over-promising and under-delivering, that commitment [to Annan] must now be matched by immediate actions,” Clinton told reporters.

“We will judge Assad’s sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says.”

Richard Murphy, a former US ambassador to Syria, told Al Jazeera that Clinton’s scepticism was the expression of a realistic outlook.

“We are at the beginning of a long process. I think Kofi Annan has presented a plan which is extremely general in many of its terms, but it is the first step to pull the various contending parties into a dialogue,” he said.

“But to think that this is going to work quickly, or to assume good faith on President Assad’s part – no, it is not to be assumed.“

Annan’s office announced China’s decision to back Annan’s plan after the envoy held  talks with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, has also pledged his country’s support for the plan.

Assad in Homs

Syria’s state-run news agency, meanwhile, said Assad had travelled to the Bab Amr neighbourhood in Homs, a former opposition stronghold that troops recaptured after a fierce assault. He was reported to have inspected troops stationed in the neighbourhood.

“Life will return to normal in Bab Amr, better than it was before,” Assad told dozens of residents as he surveyed the destruction wrought on the neighbourhood following a month-long assault by government forces.

Activists say hundreds were killed during that siege.

Despite global condemnation, Syrian troops have pushed ahead with offensives to reclaim territory from opposition fighters.

The UN has revised its estimate of the number of civilians killed in Syria’s year-long uprising to more than 9,000.

“Credible estimates put the total death toll since the beginning of the uprising one year ago to more than 9,000,” Robert Serry, the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the UN Security Council.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies