Syria: West rebuffs proposal to work with Iran to solve crisis (TELEGRAPH UK) By Adrian Blomfield, Middle East Correspondent 06/09/12)
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Efforts to forge a united international response to the Syria crisis
have been dealt a double blow as the West rebuffed a proposal to work
with Iran and Russia rejected a new US peace initiative.
With violence escalating in the wake of this week´s massacre of 78
Sunni villagers near the city of Hama, Kofi Annan, the international
envoy to Syria met Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to try
to salvage his disintegrating ceasefire plan.
At least 20 people were killed on Friday as rebels stepped up a week-
long offensive to avenge the killings in Qubair, the fourth incident
of mass bloodletting directed at members of Syria´s Sunni majority in
Their operations included one of the most ferocious assaults on
Damascus, the capital city, in months.
With demonstrations erupting across the country, the regime responded
to the mounting volatility by shelling the city of Homs, one of the
most-bitterly contested battlegrounds of the 15-month uprising
against President Bashar al-Assad.
The latest killings have galvanised Western powers into launching a
fresh attempt to save Syria sliding into sectarian war between the
country´s Sunni majority and the president´s Alawite Shia sect.
Britain, France and the United States said they were working to
introduce a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing
sanctions on the Syrian government that would be binding for all
Previous such attempts have been blocked by Russia and China.
At the same time, Mr Annan has responded to Western warning that they
were close to writing off his plan, which came into force in April,
by acknowledging the need for major modifications to save it from
He has suggested forming a "contact group" bringing together Western
and Middle Eastern states, as well as Russia and China, in the hope
of ending the international rift over Syria and paving the way for Mr
But a row immediately erupted after he proposed to include Iran in
the group, justifying the move on the grounds that it was "an
important country in the region" whose involvement was key to
bringing about a solution to the conflict.
Western powers categorically rejected the notion, with Mrs Clinton
accusing Iran of "helping to stage-manage the repression" in Syria in
order to prop up Mr Assad, a fellow Shia and a key ally of Iran.
Britain and France were similarly vocal in their opposition.
"Iran is a country which is supporting some of the unacceptable
violence and supporting the Syrian regime in what it´s doing to the
Syrian people," Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office minister
responsible for the Middle East, said.
Mrs Clinton suffered a major setback of her own as Russia rebuffed
her pleas to support a regime change in Damascus.
Hoping to exploit Moscow´s growing unease over its proximity to Mr
Assad, she tried to win Russian support for a US initiative to end
the violence in Syria built around the Syrian leader´s departure.
To make the proposal more palatable, she told Russian officials that
Mr Assad´s resignation would not be a condition for a settlement in
Syria but rather its ultimate goal.
Although Russia has distanced itself from Mr Assad, its fundamental
position on the crisis has not changed and Mrs Clinton´s top Syria
aide, Fred Hof, left Moscow empty-handed.
Russia and China, which say the Assad regime and the rebels are
equally responsible for the violence, confirmed that they would
thwart any attempt at forcing Mr Assad from office. In a blow to
Western hopes, both states also signalled their continuing opposition
to UN sanctions.
Meanwhile in Syria itself, explosions and gunfire could be heard from
the heart of Damascus as clashes erupted in three of the city´s
suburbs. The battles were among the fiercest of the uprising.
Fighting was reported across the country, but a government artillery
offensive on the rebel-held district of Khaldiyeh in Homs will alarm
the international community the most.
Opposition activists in the city said that shells were falling on the
area at more than five a minute, raising fears that government forces
were preparing to launch an infantry assault to retake the district.
(© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012. 06/09/12)
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