International peace envoy Kofi Annan has warned that Syria is slipping into “all-out” war, as activists on the ground reported the deaths of at least 27 people across the country.
“The spectre of an all-out war, with an alarming sectarian dimension, grows by the day,” Annan told a meeting of the Arab League, co-sponsor with the UN of a peace plan aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria.
At the gathering on Saturday in Doha, the Qatari prime minister urged Annan to set a timeframe for his Syria peace mission, and asked the UN Security Council to apply chapter seven of the UN charter which permits military intervention.
“We request Mr Annan to set a timeframe for his mission because it is unacceptable that massacres and bloodshed continue while the mission is ongoing indefinitely,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani said.
“We demand the UN Security Council to refer the six-point [Annan plan] to chapter seven so that the international community could assume responsibilities,” he said.
The latest diplomatic developments came as the Local Co-ordination Committees, an opposition activist network in Syria, said on Saturday that at least eight people were killed in the central province of Homs amid shelling by government forces on several neighbourhoods and clashes with opposition fighters.
In Damascus suburbs, activists reported the deaths of five people in military campaigns in Darayya, Kafrbatna and Harran al-Awameed.
In the northwestern province of Idlib, the towns of Ariha and Sarja were bombarded by heavy machine gun fire. Eight people were reportedly killed in the province.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights gave a higher death toll country-wide, saying 22 soldiers, 15 civilians and one army defector were killed.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Lebanon, security sources said 10 people were killed and dozens others injured as supporters and opponents of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad clashed in the northern city of Tripoli on Saturday.
‘Russia part of problem’
The reports of violence came as the head of the main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Council, criticised Russia for its continued refusal to condemn the crackdown in Syria.
“With its support of the regime and for Assad remaining, Russia has become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. If it co-operates to find a formula that makes Assad leave, it will become part of the solution,” Burhan Ghalioun said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin a day earlier warned of an “extremely dangerous” situation in Syria but rejected military intervention as he met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
Hours later, in a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande, Putin said “sanctions hardly ever work in an efficient manner” and indicated that Assad’s departure would not in itself resolve the crisis.
“What is happening in Libya? What is happening in Iraq? Has it become safer there?” he said in Paris. “We propose to act in an accurate, balanced manner at least in Syria.”
But Hollande kept up the pressure for decisive action, insisting that Assad’s departure was “a prerequisite for a political transition” and that “there must be sanctions” against his regime.
“Bashar al-Assad’s regime has conducted itself in an unacceptable and intolerable manner. It has committed acts that disqualify itself” from governing, said Hollande.
‘French favour intervention’
A French poll, whose results were released on Saturday, showed that a growing majority of French people favoured military intervention in Syria and more believed France should participate.
The Ifop poll, the first on the issue since a recent massacre in the Syrian town of Houla, showed backing for military intervention at 58 per cent, up from 51 per cent in February, and support for French involvement surging to 50 per cent from 38 per cent.
Ifop said that the increase was “undoubtedly linked to the multiplication of war crimes blamed on Bashar al-Assad’s regime and their recent media coverage”.
Outrage at last week’s massacre in Houla, which left at least 108 people killed – nearly half of them children – has prompted France to join several Western nations in stepping up pressure on Syria by expelling senior diplomats.
Images of the bloodied bodies of children and others massacred in Houla, located in the province of Homs, have shocked the world and highlighted the failure of Annan’s six-week-old UN-backed ceasefire plan to stop the violence in the 14-month uprising against Assad’s rule.
Nabil Elaraby, secretary-general of the Arab League, condemned the attacks in a letter to the Security Council.
“I therefore urge you to move quickly to end all acts of violence taking place in Syria, and to take the necessary measures to protect Syrian civilians, including increasing the number of international monitors and allowing them the necessary powers to put a stop to the violations and crimes being committed,” Elaraby said in the letter.
The UN Human Rights Council has condemned Syria for the Houla massacre and called for a UN investigation to identify the perpetrators and gather evidence for possible criminal prosecution.