The head of the Free Syrian Army of Thursday pressed UN envoy Kofi Annan to formally announce his peace plan has failed - and to release the rebels from any commitment to honor the truce.
Colonel Riad Al Asaad, who is based in Turkey, also contradicted a statement by the rebels inside Syria who issued President Bashar Assad an ultimatum to abide by the conditions of Annan’s plan by noon on Friday.
“There is no deadline, but we want Kofi Annan to issue a declaration announcing the failure of this plan so that we would be free to carry out any military operation against the regime,” Asaad told Al Jazeera television.
Annan’s plan has not stemmed bloodshed in Syria, and the US envoy to the UN warned – unless the Security Council acts swiftly to pressure Syria to end its crackdown on opposition – that countries may act unilaterally outside the UN framework.
Susan Rice said the worst case and most likely scenario is where “the violence escalates, the conflict spreads and intensifies... It involves countries in the region, it takes on increasingly sectarian forms, and we have a major crisis not only in Syria but in the region.”
She warned that Iran-allied Syria could become “a proxy conflict with arms coming in from all sides,” and world powers would consider taking unilateral actions, Rice said, according to Reuters.
UN investigators issued a report citing witness statements that pro-Assad Shahiba gunmen perpetrated the mass execution of 108 in Houla – including 49 children, and 32 women.
The massacre led to intense international blowback, with nine nations ejecting Syria's diplomats in protest.
Meanwhile, Syria on Thursday sought to blame the rebels for the massacre on "up to 800 rebel fighters."
The narrative starkly contradicted accounts of witnesses who blamed “shabiha” or pro-Assad militias.
Damascus launched its own investigation into the deaths and announced that special prayers for the victims would be held at mosques across the country on Friday.
At a news conference Thursday, Qassem Jamal Suleiman, who headed the government’s investigation into the massacre, categorically denied any regime role.
He said hundreds of rebel gunmen carried out the slaughter after launching a coordinated attack on five security checkpoints, AP reported.
The aim, he said, was to frame the government and to ignite sectarian strife in Syria.
“Government forces did not enter the area where the massacre occurred, not before the massacre and not after it,” he said, adding that the victims were families who refused to oppose the government or carry arms.
A Houla-based opposition activist said it was clear that there had been no government investigation.
“The regime is looking for ways to justify the massacre to the world,” the activist, Saria al-Houlany, told AP. “It's clear that there wasn't any professional probe. ... If we had 800 fighters in Houla, this massacre would not have happened.”
The area is still under attack. The government focused its shelling Thursday on the Houla village of Al Tibeh.
The activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that some residents fled to nearby towns and villages “fearing a new massacre” as the area again came under fire, according to AP.
Government forces have also bombarded towns, fired on protesters and attacked rebel strongholds, killing many hundreds of people in the last seven weeks, the activists say.
Annan’s spokesperson Ahmad Fawzi, responding to Asaad’s call, said it was not for the envoy to declare defeat.
“The Annan plan does not belong to Kofi Annan. It belongs to the parties that have accepted it and the international community that has endorsed it,” he told reporters.
“So a failure of the Annan plan would be the failure of the international community to solve this peacefully,” Fawzi said. “If anyone has a better plan they should come up with it.”
The UN says Assad’s forces have killed more than 9,000 people since the start of the uprising 14-months ago, but admits that it has not maintained a tally in months due to the chaos in the country.
Local opposition activists say the death toll has now exceeded 12,000 – most of them civilians – with over 1,000 being killed since the Annan plan's April deadline passed.