Saturday, March 10, 2012

Assad: Syria Ready for 'Honest' Peace Effort

Syria's embattled leader is promising to back what he calls "any honest effort" to bring peace to his violence-wracked country.

Syrian state-run media said President Bashar al-Assad made the comments following a meeting in Damascus with former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan. Assad also warned there could be no political settlement as long as terrorist were being allowed to sow chaos in the streets.

The Syrian leader's remarks came as Syrian forces continued their assault on the northwestern city of Idlib. Photos from Idlib show civilians fleeing the city, clutching their belongings, as black smoke billowed from the buildings behind them.

Annan--the new U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria-- is pushing for a political solution, warning that attempts to arm rebel forces will only make the situation worse. But Arab officials meeting in Cairo lashed out at the Syrian government, calling for it to be held accountable for the death and destruction.

Qatar Accuses Assad of "Genocide"

Qatar's prime minister level the most serious charges against Damascus, accusing the government of "genocide." Sheik Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani called for the Syrian rebels to be armed, saying a cease-fire would no longer be enough.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, criticized Russia, blaming it and China for vetoing key U.N. Security Council resolutions and allowing the brutality to continue.

Russia Claims "Crude Interference"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, attending the Arab league meeting, defended Russia's actions. He told diplomats and officials that Moscow was not trying to protect any regime but was concerned about what he called "crude interference" in the affairs of sovereign countries. Lavrov also called for a cease-fire, saying it was unfair to blame only one side for the violence.

Russia and China have twice vetoed U.N. Security Council proposals that would have put pressure on Assad's government to end the conflict.

UN Says 7,500 Killed

The U.N. estimates that Syrian forces have killed over 7,500 people since the anti-Assad uprising began a year ago. The government blames "terrorists" for the unrest, saying that 2,000 of its security forces have been killed in the conflict.

The U.N. has been pressing Syrian officials for access to the country to help the victims of the ongoing government crackdown on dissent. But U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Friday in Ankara that Syrian officials "asked for more time."

Syrian opposition groups said Friday at least 31 people died as thousands took to the streets across the country to rally against the government of President Assad.