Syrian activists say violence nationwide killed 17 people Friday as international envoy Kofi Annan called for additional pressure on the Syrian government as he met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington.
Speaking tersely while standing next to Clinton, Annan said the two diplomats are looking how to move his stalled peace plan forward.
"Everyone is looking for a solution," he said. "Some say the plan may be dead. Is the problem the plan or the problem the implementation? If it's implementation, how do we get action on that?"
The Annan-brokered cease-fire has failed to deter attacks by the Syrian government and clashes with opposition rebels that have left hundreds dead.
Clinton said the pair want to figure out how to "engender a greater response" by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to Annan's overtures.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says the talks were meant to craft a unified transition strategy for Syria and gain greater international support for that strategy, principally from Russia.
"We have been strongly working with, encouraging the Russians to work with us on a common political strategy," Nuland said.
Russia and China have repeatedly blocked stronger U.N. action against President Assad including economic sanctions and the threat of force to end 15-months of violence.
The talks come as Rami Abdelrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, said Friday that a blast in front of a police station in the northwestern city of Idlib killed two security forces and three civilians. Another explosion that shook a Damascus suburb killed two more security force members.
The Observatory said demonstrators protested after Friday prayers across Syria, including in Aleppo, Damascus and Dara'a. Two civilians died in that southern city, including one shot by a sniper.
Government troops shelled Homs while heavy fighting left two killed in Latakia. The activist group also reported deaths in Deir Ezzor.
The U.N. said its observers had reached the site of a recently reported massacre in central Hama province. Activists said at least 78 people, including women and children, were killed this week in the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir.
The observers had been trying to reach the site since Thursday, but the U.N. says gunmen shot at the unarmed monitors and blocked them from investigating.
The uprising in Syria
March 2011: First protests erupt, dozens killed. Government announces reforms, then resigns.
April, May 2011: Protests intensify and spread, hundreds killed. U.S. imposes sanctions on top leaders.
August, September 2011: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain withdraw ambassadors. U.S. imposes economic sanctions, EU bans Syrian oil imports.
October 2011: Russia, China veto a U.N. resolution condemning Syria.
November 2011: The Arab League suspends Syria's membership.
January 2012: Government releases 5,000 prisoners. Death toll soars past 7,000.
February 2012: Russia, China veto a second U.N. resolution condemning crackdown.
March 2012: Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan holds talks in Syria. U.N. says death toll exceeds 9,000. Syria agrees to U.N.-backed peace plan.
April 2012: Syria says it will abide by a cease-fire on April 12, but violence continues. U.N. observers arrive.
May 2012: Syria holds parliamentary elections, violence continues, U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan appeals to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop the violence.
June 2012: Western nations expel Syrian diplomats, Mr. Annan urges increased pressure on Syria.
Opposition activists say pro-government forces in Syria carried out Wednesday's massacre, which would be the fourth mass slaying of civilians in the past two weeks. The Syrian government blames unidentified "terrorists" for the violence.
Analyst Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group (ICG) said that the next phase of the conflict will likely shift to Damascus.
"What we see now is a looming battle for the big cities - for the capital in particular," he said. "The regime has scored a number of very superficial, symbolic victories in terms of cracking down on armed groups, but without ever being able to hold the ground it regained through military operations."
In Geneva Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the humanitarian situation in Syria is "extremely tense."
ICRC Spokesman, Hicham Hassan says many Syrians are extremely vulnerable and in desperate need of basic services and food.
"People who are being displaced are in need, for example, of bread even," he said. "This is something now that is difficult to get for many people who are fleeing or who are still staying or not able or refusing to leave their homes."
Hassan says many people are staying in schools, mosques, churches and other public buildings. He says these buildings are in urgent need of repair. In all, the ICRC spokesman says 1.5 million civilians need long-term assistance.
"Many of the people who fled their homes of the displaced are staying either with families or with friends, hence the difficulty today to provide accurate figures of displaced persons," he said.
VOA's Yeranian reported from Cairo and Babb from Washington. Lisa Schlein contributed to this report from Geneva and Scott Stearns from Washington.
Related report by VOA's Meredith Buel. We caution viewers, you may find some images in this report disturbing.
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