Ahmed Elbatrawy

Annan to meet al-Assad again on plans


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(CNN) — The U.N. special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, met with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad for the second time in as many days Sunday, seeking a diplomatic solution to violence that opposition groups said claimed at least 33 more lives.

“It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be difficult but we have to have hope,” Annan said Sunday after the meeting.

On Saturday, Annan proposed a cease-fire, the release of detainees and allowing unfettered access to agencies like the Red Cross to deliver much needed aid, a U.N. statement said.

Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general, also proposed a start to an inclusive political dialogue that would “address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the people.”

He had a second meeting with al-Assad on Sunday before departing to meet with the emir of Qatar, whose prime minister on Saturday called for military intervention in Syria.

It was unclear whether al-Assad offered any assurances that he would agree to the proposals laid out by Annan. When asked if he received promises of a cease-fire or the acceptance of humantirian assistance, Annan responded, “(those are) some issues we’re discussing with the president.”

In addition to his meeting with al-Assad, Annan also met with members of the opposition as well as local business and religious leaders.

“The transformational winds blowing today cannot be long-resisted,” Annan said. “I have urged the president to heed the old African proverb: ‘you cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail.’ The realistic response is to embrace change and reform.”

Even as Annan and al-Assad were talking, opposition groups said fresh protests and violence had erupted once again across the country.

Opposition groups reported violent clashes between Syrian government forces and defectors, and said government forces were randomly shelling civilian areas.

In the Idlib province village of Aljanoudeyah, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria said shelling by government forces destroyed three buildings. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 19 people were killed in Idlib.

The London-based Observatory also said Syrian forces also shelled a bridge over the Assi River west of Rastan. The bridge had been used by residents trying to flee the city, according to the group.

The attack destroyed the bridge, the group said.

Meanwhile, the state-run SANA news agency said a terrorist group was responsible for the destruction of another bridge in the province of Hama. The group, citing an official in the province, said terrorists planted a bomb at the base of a bridge connecting al-Rasif and Shateha. The explosion partially collapsed the bridge, SANA reported.


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At least 33 people died Sunday in places such as Idlib, Aleppo, Latakia, Homs, Latakia, Daraa, Hama and the Damascus countryside, opposition activists said.

Among the victims were a mother and son killed by heavy machine gunfire in Areh, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group based in London.

One of the dead, Wael Masri, was shot in the neck in Arbeen, the opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights said. “The Assad military refuses to hand over the dead body to his family unless they sign a document blaming terrorist gangs for his death,” the group said.

Clashes also also broke out between the Syrian army and rebel fighters in the Damascus suburbs and Aleppo, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists. Another opposition group said three regime soldiers were killed in clashes in Idlib.

And in a phone call with a Binish town elder, a major general in al-Assad’s military demanded the people of Binish hand over weapons used by defected soldiers and the rebel Free Syrian Army within 24 hours — or the town will be bombed and stormed early Monday morning, according to the Binish Coordination Committee, part of the LCC.

SANA reported that what it called terrorist groups killed a boxing champion in Aleppo and two special forces troops in the province of Hama. The news agency also said an official of the Baath Arab Socialist Party was kidnapped in the al-Ghouta area of Homs.

Despite the violence, the LCC said protesters marched iin several locations around the country, demanding the downfall of the al-Assad regime.

The meetings Saturday and Sunday between al-Assad and Annan was the first time in Syria’s year-long crisis that al-Assad met with such a high-level diplomat. But the Syrian president quashed the possibility of negotiating with the opposition anytime soon.

Syrian state-run media said al-Assad told Annan that he was ready to find a solution, but that such an effort would first require a look at reality on the ground and not rely on what “is promoted by some regional and international countries to distort the facts and give a picture contrary to what Syria is undergoing.”

He also reiterated that “political dialogue or action cannot take place or succeed if there are terrorist armed gangs on the ground that are working on spreading chaos and target the stability of the homeland,” the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said.

The Syrian regime has insisted it is not slaughtering dissidents; rather, it says, armed thugs are responsible for killing thousands.

But opposition activists and residents tell a very different story.

Heavy shelling rained on the Karm al Zaytoun neighborhood in Homs on Sunday, leaving “major destruction,” the LCC said.

“The Assad armed gangs are burning and ransacking the houses,” the group said.

In the Bab Qabli neighborhood of Hama, pro-Assad troops evacuated some residents from their homes and were using the houses to host their troops, opposition activists said.


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Amid the fighting, Annan’s visit presented “a small sign of hope, yet so dim,” said Abdel Aziz al-Khair, a member of the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change.

“There is no way that we can have any dialogue with the regime until the security campaign ends,” he 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,” he said.

Annan distanced himself from military intervention as did opposition members, agreeing that an armed conflict would only worsen the predicament of civilians, said al-Khair, who met with Annan Saturday.

Both Annan and opposition members agreed that plans for a resolution cannot be implemented as long as the bloodshed continues.

“It is too early to apply a plan to resolve the crisis, ” al-Khair said. “The situation on the ground … is catastrophic.

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 inside Syria indicate the regime is killing civilians en masse in an attempt to wipe out dissidents seeking al-Assad’s ouster.

CNN’s Saad Abedine, Kareem Khadder, Salma Abdelaziz, Hamdi Alkhshali and Ian Lee contributed to this report.






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Ahmed Elbatrawy