March 12, 2012 in Nation/World

International effort on Syria crisis stalls

U.N. leader unable to broker cease-fire
Ben Hubbard Associated Press
Associated Press photo

People remove a speed bump to allow ambulances and fighters’ vehicles to drive faster in a neighborhood in Idlib, northern Syria, on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

BEIRUT – An international push to end Syria’s conflict stalled Sunday as U.N. envoy Kofi Annan left Damascus without a cease-fire and President Bashar Assad’s forces pounded opposition areas and clashed with rebels throughout the country.

Western and Arab powers are struggling for ways to stem the bloodshed in the year-old conflict while both the regime and the opposition reject dialogue. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appeared to make little progress during two visits with Assad during his first trip to Syria as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy.

Annan was seeking an immediate cease-fire to allow for humanitarian aid and the start of a dialogue between all parties on a political solution. After meeting with Assad on Sunday, Annan said he had presented steps to ease the crisis, but gave no details.

Assad told Annan on Sunday that a political solution is impossible as long as “terrorist groups” threaten the country, according to Syria’s state news service – which reported identical comments after the men met Saturday. The regime blames the uprising on armed groups acting out a foreign conspiracy.

Annan’s calls for reform also fall far short of opposition calls for Assad’s ouster and the end of his authoritarian regime. Opposition leaders say the thousands killed at the hands of his security forces, many while protesting peacefully, mean they’ll accept nothing less.

Government troops shelled areas in and around the northern city of Idlib, activists said, part of a campaign launched Saturday to crush the opposition in its stronghold along the border with Turkey. In some areas they clashed with local rebels fighting under the banner of the loose-knit Free Syrian Army.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists around Syria, said 16 civilians had been killed in attacks by Syrian forces or in clashes with local rebels in Idlib province. More than five government soldiers were also killed.

Also Sunday, gunmen in the northwestern city of Aleppo killed local boxing champion Gheyath Tayfour. Syria’s state news agency said an armed group ambushed the 43-year-old boxer in his car near Aleppo University and shot him dead.

Tayfour was not known to have voiced opinions on the country’s conflict, making it unclear whether his killing was politically motivated.

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