Kofi Annan meets with #Syria’n president; Qatar says it’s time to send troops
(CNN) — A former United Nations secretary-general met with Syria’s president Saturday in the latest diplomatic attempt to halt the bloodshed in the country.
But on the same morning, at least 12 people died from fresh violence across Syria, opposition activists said.
Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League, met President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus “to seek an urgent end to … human rights violations and to initiate efforts to promote a peaceful solution” to the violence that has wracked the country for nearly a year, his spokesman said.
Annan will meet with other groups later in the day, said Ahmad Fawzi, his spokesman. Those others may include opposition, civil society and women’s groups, he said.
Abdel Aziz al-Khair, a member of the opposition Executive Committee of the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change, said he is scheduled to meet Annan on Saturday afternoon. He said Annan’s visit with al-Assad “is a small sign of hope, yet so dim.”
“There is no way that we can have any dialogue with the regime until the security campaign ends,” al-Khair said. “They keep playing the victim role, (saying) that they are defending the innocent civilians while they slaughter them and blame the bloodshed on others.”
Annan will stay overnight in Damascus to see if he can get a response Sunday, according to his spokesman.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that in a telephone call Friday, he urged Annan “to ensure that there must be an immediate cease-fire” followed by “an inclusive political solution.” Ban said he also asked his predecessor to facilitate humanitarian assistance and access.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Annan will “try to broker a swift transition in which ultimately Assad steps aside and the people of Syria are able to choose an interim government that’s representative and leads to elections.”
Rice said she wants the situation to be resolved peacefully, “to the extent that that remains still a viable outcome.”
But violent clashes between government forces and defected soldiers in the town of Daraya left several people dead Saturday, opposition activists said.
Two regime soldiers and three defected soldiers were killed in the clashes, and one civilian was later killed by security forces, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group.
Six other deaths took place in Idlib, Daraa and the Damascus countryside, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, another opposition group.
And in the Daraa village of Jezah, “the regime’s army is indiscriminately bombing the city with anti-aircraft missiles. They village is under siege in all directions,” said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists.
The reports come a day after 85 people were killed across Syria, the LCC said.
“It is time to send Arab and international troops to Syria,” Qatar’s prime minister and foreign affairs minister, Sheikh Hamad ibn Jassem Al Thani, said Saturday. “I urge everyone in the Syrian opposition to unite and for everyone to recognize the Syrian National Council as Syria’s representative.”
A video uploaded to YouTube purportedly shot in Homs shows a dead body, its head blown off by shrapnel.
“This is Bashar Assad’s message to us. This is how he is welcoming Kofi Annan’s visit,” a man’s voice on the video says. “We ask the Arab world to look at this dead body, to the whole world, to Kofi Annan — look at our sufferings. This old man was killed for no reason. … May God curse you, Bashar.”
CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the video.
The violence has fueled a humanitarian crisis, with residents and opposition activists reporting scarce or no access to food, running water, electricity and medical supplies in some areas.
During a visit to Syria this week, Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief, said she had submitted a proposal to Syria for “unhindered” aid-worker access and asked the government to respond urgently.
Amos said the Syrian government “asked for more time to look at the agreement that I put to them.”
She visited Homs and parts of the Baba Amr neighborhood — the anti-government bastion that endured weeks of government pounding.
“I was horrified by the destruction I saw,” she said. “Almost all the buildings had been destroyed and there were hardly any people left there. I am extremely concerned as to the whereabouts of the people who have been displaced from Baba Amr.”
The brutality in Syria has prompted as many as 2,000 people to flee to Lebanon and hundreds to Turkey, officials said.
The semi-official Turkish news agency also reported that seven Syrian officers have joined the opposition and entered Turkey from Hatay province. The defectors include four generals, two colonels and one lieutenant colonel, Anatolian said, citing local authorities.
But senior U.S. intelligence officials said Friday that they see no signs of significant deterioration of support for al-Assad by his inner circle.
The officials, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity, said that the defections so far have been of lower-level officials and those in the military. None of those defections, including the group of military officers who reportedly defected this week, is close enough to al-Assad to truly make a difference, the senior intelligence officials said.
The United Nations says more than 7,500 have died in the past year, and at least one activist group says more than 9,000 people have been killed.
CNN cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports of casualties or attacks from across Syria because the government has severely restricted the access of international journalists. But the vast majority of reports from from inside Syria indicate the government is slaughtering civilians in an attempt to quash dissidents seeking al-Assad’s ouster.
Syrian government warned of the consequences for journalists trying to sneak into the country.
“The Information Ministry is monitoring the illegal entry of some correspondents from Arab and foreign media establishments into Syria, in addition to monitoring the employment of correspondents illegally, affirming that it will take the necessary legal steps against these individuals and establishments,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Saturday.
The Syrian regime has consistently blamed violence in the country on “armed terrorist groups.” But many aren’t buying that line.
“From the beginning of the revolution, the regime played the same boring record that they are fighting armed gangs, terrorists, militants, saboteurs, but everyone knows that this is nonsense, a silly propaganda,” al-Khair said. “99% of the people on the ground are average Syrian citizens who want a better tomorrow and a true democracy.”
CNN’s Amir Ahmed, Barbara Starr, Talia Kayali, Hamdi Alkhshali, Salma Abdelaziz and Nada Husseini contributed to this report.