U.N. Leader Presses Assad on Peace Plan (NY) TIMES) By ANNE BARNARD and ALAN COWELL AL QAA, Lebanon 03/29/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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AL QAA, Lebanon — The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-
moon, “strongly” urged President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on
Wednesday to immediately put into effect a peace plan he is said to
have accepted that would rein in security forces in advance of
negotiations to end a year of bloody revolt, but activist groups
reported more assaults throughout the country.
“There is no time to waste,” Mr. Ban said, speaking in Kuwait
“I strongly urge President Assad to put these commitments into
immediate effect,” he said, according to Reuters. “This is an
important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and
the bloodshed and provide aid to those people who are suffering.”
On Wednesday, activist groups quoted in news reports said government
forces continued their drive against Mr. Assad’s adversaries, using
heavy weapons to encircle and choke opposition strongholds in several
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights spoke of clashes
from the Dera’a region in the south to the area surrounding Hama much
further north. The Local Coordination Committees activist group said
government troops had stormed the northern town of Saraqeb, leaving
40 people dead and the streets littered with unidentified corpses and
wounded citizens after four days of attacks.
The group appealed to the Red Cross and other humanitarian
organizations to "treat the injured and bury the martyrs." The group
accused government troops of burning and shelling 300 homes and
chasing away families related to the government’s opponents. Such
reports cannot be verified because the authorities severely restrict
access to reporters in an effort to control the flow of information,
reducing it often to a trickle.
The United Nations’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, accused
the Syrian authorities of targeting the young.
“They’ve gone for the children — for whatever purposes — in large
numbers,” Ms. Pillay said, in an interview with the BBC published on
Wednesday. “Hundreds detained and tortured — it’s just
horrendous. “Children shot in the knees, held together with adults in
really inhumane conditions, denied medical treatment for their
injuries, either held as hostages or as sources of information.”
The United Nations raised its estimated tally of the dead in the
conflict to more than 9,000, from 8,000 a few weeks ago.
On Tuesday, Kofi Annan, the United Nations special envoy for Syria,
reported that Mr. Assad’s government had formally accepted a six-
point peace plan. But anti-Assad groups inside Syria reported that at
least 57 people were killed throughout the country, including the
area bordering this northern Lebanon village. Such fighting suggests
that the conflict could be in danger of spilling over into Lebanon.
The Lebanese military said Tuesday that no Syrian troops or vehicles
had trespassed, although an officer said a mortar shell had landed 40
yards inside Lebanon.
The peace plan has emerged as a focus of diplomacy as the myriad
players in the Syria crisis — ranging from external powers to exiled
dissidents — sought to increase pressure on Mr. Assad, with varying
degrees of unity.
Some of his fractious opponents outside the country, meeting in
Istanbul to seek a common front, said late Tuesday they had agreed to
reunite under the Syrian National Council, whose Paris-based
leadership projects itself as the main umbrella group for exiled
But the agreement left out representatives of Syria’s large Kurdish
minority, who complained that their demands for special status in a
post-Assad era were not being taken into account. News reports said
the trade-off for even limited unity had been an agreement by the
council’s leader, Burhan Ghalioun, to discuss restructuring the
movement in further talks among the exiles in Istanbul on Wednesday.
The Syrian groups were meeting ahead of a gathering on Sunday in
Istanbul of the so-called Friends of Syria including many Arab and
Western governments seeking Mr. Assad’s ouster.
While Mr. Annan was announcing that Mr. Assad had agreed to his six-
point proposal, Mr. Assad’s own representative was visiting with
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, one of his few remaining
defenders, who called the Syrian conflict a plot by the United States
and its allies, including Israel and members of the Arab League, to
“Today it has become clear to all that the arrogant powers try to
harm Iran, Syria and the resistance movement, trying to save the
Zionist regime under the slogan of human rights and caring for
freedom,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told Faisal Maqdad, a special envoy of Mr.
Assad, according to Iran’s state-run news media.
Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency made no mention of the
Syrian president’s acceptance of the peace proposal by Mr. Annan,
appointed as a special representative of both the United Nations and
the Arab League. The United Nations Security Council unanimously
endorsed Mr. Annan’s effort last week, putting new pressure on the
IRNA said on Wednesday that Mr. Annan himself would visit Tehran next
week to discuss the Syrian crisis with Iranian officials. President
Ahmadinejad also spoke about the crisis with another visitor,
Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has projected
himself as a key regional player.
Mr. Assad, who has restricted foreign news coverage of the conflict
and has seldom emerged publicly, paid a surprise visit to Homs on
Tuesday in which he sought to project an image of responsibility and
reason. His army has been locked in an on-again, off-again battle in
Homs with elements of the insurgent Free Syrian Army and other
antigovernment groups for weeks. The government proclaimed the city
safe in early March but last week resumed artillery and mortar
barrages of recalcitrant neighborhoods.
Footage broadcast by Syrian state television showed Mr. Assad leading
an entourage through the heavily damaged Baba Amr neighborhood,
ordering expedited repairs and greeting clots of well-wishers. It was
the first time he had visited the city since it was damaged in the
A voice is heard yelling: “We are with you till death!” Mr. Assad
later tells a crowd of supporters, “We will all work together to
rebuild Baba Amr, and it will be better than it used to be.”
Anti-Assad activists noted that his visit was not broadcast live and
appeared to have been heavily edited and orchestrated. One activist,
Abu Jaafar, reached by Skype in the Inshaat neighborhood of Homs,
said the visit had been preceded by many tanks encircling Baba Amr,
flyovers by at least four helicopters and “a lot of gunfire.”
Others said it was odd that Mr. Assad had been greeted by any
residents because so many had fled from the shelling. Syrians who had
taken refuge over the Lebanese border near Al Qaa said they suspected
that Assad supporters had been transported to the event. “They bring
people on buses to clap for him and say that he killed all the Free
Syrian Army,” said a man living across the border in a Lebanese
farmer’s house who identified himself as Abu Munzer.
Anne Barnard reported from Al Qaa, Lebanon, and Alan Cowell from
London. Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad and Hala Droubi from
Beirut, Lebanon; Rick Gladstone from New York; Sebnem Arsu from
Istanbul; and Steven Lee Myers from Washington. (Copyright 2012 The
New York Times Company 03/29/12)
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