Security Council to discuss Syria statement

France proposes draft UN statement supporting Kofi Annan's mediating efforts, as fierce fighting erupts in Damascus.

    Kofi Annan said a unified Security Council had better chances of ending the Syrian conflict [AFP]
    Kofi Annan said a unified Security Council had better chances of ending the Syrian conflict [AFP]

    France has circulated a proposed statement to the UN Security Council that would support efforts by international envoy Kofi Annan to end the violence in Syria and launch a political dialogue.

    Annan, who is a former UN secretary-general, asked the council on Friday to unite behind his effort to end the year-long bloodshed that the UN says has killed more than 8,000 people.

    Mark Lyall Grant, the UK's UN ambassador, told reporters on Monday that the council would discuss the draft presidential statement on Tuesday as well as a press statement proposed by Russia, Syria's closest ally, on the recent attacks in Damascus and Aleppo.

    Presidential statements are stronger and become part of the Security Council's permanent record while press statements do not. Unlike resolutions, neither are legally binding.

    Gerard Araud, France's UN ambassador, said he introduced a presidential statement to give quick backing to Annan because a resolution would take a week or two.

    Lyall Grant gave no details on the statement supporting Annan, adding that most council members "were seeing it for the first time so there was no substantive discussion".

    Annan's proposals

    Annan, the joint UN and Arab League special envoy, held two rounds of talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on March 10-11 and made a series of proposals, which he said were aimed at stopping the violence, accelerating humanitarian assistance and establishing "credibility and confidence for the political process when it is initiated".

    He then sent a five-member team to Syria to discuss practical steps to implement his proposal.

    A UN spokesman said the team, with expertise on political, peacekeeping and mediation issues, would stay as long as it was making progress on reaching agreement on practical steps to implement Annan's proposals.

    "Mr. Annan's next visit to Syria will depend largely on progress made by the Syrians in working with the mission," said Eduardo del Buey.

    Syria told Annan in a letter obtained on Saturday by The Associated Press news agency that it was "keen to end violence" but insisted that armed opposition groups gave up their weapons first.

    The Syrian response fell far short of US and European demands that Syrian forces stop fighting first, and even Russia's insistence that both sides lay down their arms simultaneously. But it did leave the door open for talks.

    Russia, meanwhile, added its voice to calls for a daily truce so that aid can be delivered to affected cities, with Sergei Lavrov, the country's foreign minister, joining Jakob Kellenberger, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in demanding both sides do so immediately.

    "The sides called on the Syrian government and all armed groups who oppose it to agree without delay to daily humanitarian pauses," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

    Fighting continues

    Assad's security forces launched attacks in several regions on Monday, opposition activists said.

    And pre-dawn fighting in a heavily guarded area of Damascus, the capital's fiercest since a revolt against Assad's regime erupted a year ago, came as residents still reeled from deadly weekend bombings.

    At least three rebels and a member of the security forces were killed in the upscale western neighbourhood of Mazzeh, state television and monitors reported.

    "Three terrorists were killed and a fourth was arrested in the fighting between security forces and an armed terrorist gang sheltered in a house of a residential district," the television channel said.

    Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said four rebels were killed. The fighters fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the home of a top army officer as they brought the conflict to the capital, he said.

    Mourtada Rasheed, an activist in Damascus, said blasts and heavy shooting could be heard in Mazzeh and two other districts, Qaboon and Arbeen.

    In Mazzeh, which is overlooked by Assad's clifftop presidential palace and home to several embassies, terrified locals were woken by the rattle of gunfire. "We were very scared," one told AFP news agency.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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