Annan Leaves Syria Empty Handed
A UN official told reporters UN envoy Kofi Annan left Syria on Wednesday without securing any major steps from the Syrian government to implement his faltering peace plan.
Speaking by phone from Damascus, UN spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh told the Associated Press she was not aware of any action by the Syrian government.
Annan reportedly discussed the Syrian crisis with Jordanian officials in Amman, Jordan, after flying out of Damascus.
While in Syria, Annan made a personal appeal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for “bold steps” to create momentum for peace “now, not tomorrow.”
Annan's plan called on the Syrian government to withdraw heavy weapons from civilian areas and honor a truce with rebels by mid-April.
However, violence – including large-scale massacres of dissidents in artillery barrages and raids by the regime-allied Shahiba militias – has continued.
UN human rights officials on Tuesday said most of the 108 victims of a massacre in Syria last week were shot at close range “execution style.”
The massacre on Friday in Houla – which included 34 women, 49 children, and in some cases entire families – generated new international outrage after 14 months of bloodletting in Syria.
UN observers cited survivors and witnesses blaming the house-to-house killings on pro-government thugs known as shabiha, who often operate as hired enforcers for Assad's regime.
Shabiha thugs are known to frequently work closely with soldiers and security forces, but the regime never acknowledges their existence – allowing it to deny responsibility for their actions.
Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the Norwegian commander of the UN observer force in Syria, said he is “deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act.”
He also called on all parties “to exercise restraint and end the cycle of violence.”
Even as Annan landed in Syria bearing “a message for anyone with a gun – stop the fighting!” a massacre of at least 41 took place in the central protest city of Homs.
Reports of such massacres by government troops and Shahiba militiamen have emerged with alarming regularity – with systemic rape, torture, and mass executions consistently providing the dominant narrative.
International outrage has mounted since a massacre in Houla last Friday – and the follow up killings in Homs. On Wednesday Japan and Turkey became the latest nations to expel Syrian diplomats in protest.
They join nine Western nations who announced expulsions on Tuesday – including the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak joined the fray by urging the international community to take tougher action against Assad's government for what he called its “crimes against humanity.”
“The events in Syria mean the world must take action, not only by talking, but by acting. These are crimes against humanity, and it is impossible that the international community stand aloof.”
Meanwhile, diplomats in Geneva said the UN Human Rights Council plans to hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the Houla massacre. They said the United States, Turkey and Qatar led the push for the special session.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay outraged Syrian officials in March when she said there was ample evidence to hold Syrian president Bashar al-Assad directly responsible for the slaughter in his country – going so far as to say “There is no statute of limitations, so people like him can go on for a very long time but one day they will have to face justice.”
It is believed more than 12,000 people – most of them civilians – have been killed in Assad’s brutal 14-month crackdown. Local rights activists say at least 1,000 of those have been killed since the April ceasefire deadline passed.