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    Fresh Fighting in Syria, Assad Backs 'Honest' Peace

    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (center R) meets U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan (center L) in Damascus March 10, 2012.
    Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (center R) meets U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan (center L) in Damascus March 10, 2012.

    Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, now in Syria as an envoy for the Arab League and the United Nations, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Saturday in Damascus, as Arab foreign ministers gathered in Cairo to discuss the Syrian crisis.  Mr. Assad is reported to have pledged an “honest effort” to achieve peace in his country, but said he would not consent to any talks with his political opponents, whom he describes as “armed terrorist groups, spreading chaos and violence.”

    At the Arab League, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are demanding concrete action to curtail the bloodshed in Syria.  The league's secretary-general, Nabil al Arabi, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov jointly called for dialogue between the opposing sides in Syria.

    A family escapes from fierce fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government troops in Idlib, north Syria, March 10, 2012.
    A family escapes from fierce fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government troops in Idlib, north Syria, March 10, 2012.

    Forces loyal to the Syrian government shelled the northern town of Idlib Saturday at the same time that President Assad was meeting in Damascus with Kofi Annan, the peace envoy from the Arab League and United Nations.

    Witnesses in Idlib said they came under attack for hours, and that some of the shellfire was heavy.  Government tanks also entered the city.

    President Assad is said to have promised Mr. Annan that he would support any “honest effort” to work for peace.  However, he also said he would reject any contact with opposition groups.  Mr. Assad is quoted as saying no political talks could take place while "armed terrorist groups", his government's term for much of the opposition,  are "operating and spreading chaos and terror.”

    The Arab League, working through its special envoy Annan, is seeking a diplomatic solution to stop the violence, despite strong criticism from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Syrian opposition groups themselves.  Mr. Annan insisted that the first step towards peace is to stop the bloodshed and allow assistance to reach suffering civilians. "The first thing we need to do is to do everything we can to stop the violence and the killing, to facilitate humanitarian access and ensure that the needy are looked after," he said.

    A five-point Arab League peace plan, announced at a news conference in Cairo, calls for a cessation of violence, deployment of independent observers, allowing the free flow of humanitarian aid, refraining from foreign intervention, and supporting Kofi Annan's mission.

    Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem ben Al Thani has consistently pressed the Arab League for more action on the Syrian crisis.  He argues that the league needs to take more strenuous action.

    He says the Arab countries have a moral responsibility to put a stop to the programmed daily killing in Syria and to protect the Syrian people.  He also calls on fellow Arabs and the international community to send a peace-keeping force to Syria, and to tell the Syrian regime that the world's patience is exhausted by its arguments and ugly practices.

    Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal also condemned what he calls a tepid response to the crisis in Syria, by both Arab states and the international community. He says Russia and China's decision to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria gave the Syrian regime license to continue its brutal practices.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Cairo that now is not the time to assess blame for the world's failure to stop the carnage in Syria. "We shall not really engage in discussing who is to blame. This could be done later by the authorities, by international structures who are empowered to do this.  But today, the most urgent task is to end all violence, irrespective of where it comes from," he said.

    Joshua Landis, who is head of the Middle East Studies program at the University of Oklahoma, says the Assad regime thinks it is winning the battle against the opposition, and that both sides' unwillingness to compromise paves the way for a bleak future in Syria.

    “This is a zero-sum game. There isn't a compromise that can come out of this that I can see. Once Assad steps aside, the entire edifice of the regime is going to crumble. ... There's very little that can take the place of the Syrian Army or the Syrian government, and that has people wringing their hands in Syria.  They don't see a way out of going down a very dark tunnel, which is in the direction of what happened in Iraq or what happened in Lebanon during the darkest period of the civil war," he said.

    Landis foresees a growing cascade of defections from the upper echelons of the Syrian regime, but argues that President Assad's Alawite allies are not likely to desert him.  “They understand,” Landis says, “that they need to hang together or be hanged apart.” He also paints a somber picture of an increasingly sectarian conflict: “It takes a long time for people who've lived together in relative harmony for decades to stop associating with each other and put hate in their hearts, but that's what we're going to see.”

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    Comments page of 2
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    by: Mussa
    March 28, 2012 2:23 PM
    What surprises me the most is the position of the Saudis and Qataries. Would it not be more logical to grant more freedom and democracy to their people first befor advocating on behalf of the Syrian people? Just in term of unemployment , 40% of Saudi have no jobs, women can't even drive a car, young men can even enter a shopping mall. I am appalled!!!

    by: Yasin
    March 13, 2012 8:04 PM
    I think the dialog needs to be continued to finish shooting to each other and we advise against western countries don't need to be dizzy because Russia and China know a way. that's a precise way. .

    by: SDL
    March 11, 2012 10:42 PM
    Don`t waste time to do the negotiations with a anti-humanism dictate murder, It is just to exhaust the innocent lives and expand the bloodshed in Syrian. The UN should irrespective the intervention and prevention from Russia and China, immediately throw down the domination of Bashar al-Assad by military force.

    by: Agamemnom
    March 11, 2012 12:50 PM
    With terrorist, trained, financed and supported by foreighn forces there are two options: Fight to the last terrorist or unconditional capitulation and face consequences. There is not a third option. If you wound it then finish it. Winston Churchill.

    by: Godwin
    March 11, 2012 12:32 AM
    As-sad as ever! Please trust Assad when he says something about "Honest" peace, he means it. His brother Ahmadinejad gives a lot of peace through the fumes and nuzzles of guns, even to his own people, and so duplicating it in Syria is just to feel the world's heartbeat when he talks about peaceful nuclear bomb in relations with Israel. Trust them, only their peace means something else from our understanding of it. As to Iran, peace means live and let others die. So with Assad.

    by: Egg First or Chicken First?
    March 10, 2012 10:26 PM
    First, we should make sure: who is killing people, if both, that's civil war. Then we should make sure: egg first? chicken first?

    by: Is that a formula??
    March 10, 2012 10:24 PM
    Given that Asad was always a good president, but one day, many people went to streets to make violent protests and make messy everywhere, then Asad ... in order to stop violence .. then some people and countries said Asad was making "genocide", then western people get ready to attack Syria again like attacking many other countries.. Come on, it looks like a formula ..

    by: Asad was always a nice and friendly president before Arab Spring
    March 10, 2012 10:18 PM
    "genocide"??? Between different races? But they all are Arabians. By the way, why Asad is making "genocide"??? I kept an eye on Middle East including Syria for many years. President Asad was always a nice and friendly president, not only to their citizens but also to other countries.

    by: JDS
    March 10, 2012 11:57 AM
    Assad Backs 'Honest' Peace????

    Assad & Honest don't belong in the same sentence

    by: George
    March 10, 2012 10:57 AM
    What is going on in Syria is undoubtedly a genocide.. conducted by this Syrian regime against its own people who had fanally been fed by this iron fist machine practices for 4 decades. All the excuses given by the leaders of the free world are fluke. Genocides of this magnitude cries loudly for the free world to assume its responsibilities to stop this Drakola in Syria.
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