News / Middle East

Envoy Kofi Annan in Syria Amid More Violence

Edward YeranianCarla Babb
International peace envoy Kofi Annan began two days of talks in Syria Monday, attempting to salvage his battered peace plan following the massacre of at least 108 civilians, including 49 children, in central Syria last week.

Annan urged "everyone with a gun" to lay down arms and help resolve Syria's 15-month conflict peacefully. He said he was "shocked and horrified" by the killings in the rebellious area of Houla on Friday, calling them "an appalling crime."

"I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process. And this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone, every individual with a gun," Annan said.

Syrian officials said the former U.N. secretary-general would meet Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem later in the day and President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday.  

His arrival came after rights activists said security forces bombarded neighborhoods in the flashpoint city Hama from Sunday into early Monday, in retaliation for rebel attacks on government positions. They said the fighting killed soldiers, rebels and at least 13 civilians.

The casualties could not be independently confirmed, and a spokesperson for the U.N. mission in Syria said observers have not been able to enter the city due to security concerns.

Still, Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. observer mission, said Monday he was seeing "positive signs" in some regions, as his team pushes for dialogue and stability. He said he was prepared to brief Annan on what the observers have witnessed so far.

"I look forward to be able to convey my impression of the Syrian people, also to share with him that the suffering of the Syrian people is something that they do not deserve, and we will then have discussions at different levels with different people on whatever we can do to bring this forward in a positive direction," he said.

Houla massacre outrage

The U.N. Security Council has issued a statement strongly condemning killings in the central village of Houla, where U.N. observers confirmed the deaths of dozens of civilians. The monitors who viewed the bodies of Houla victims saw wounds from artillery and gunfire, while finding fresh tank tracks in the area.

Annan said Monday he was "shocked and horrified" by the "tragic" killings of at least 108 people in Houla on Friday. The U.N. mission in Syria's spokesperson, Sausan Ghosheh, told VOA its observers have been in Houla every day since the violence.

"They are trying to establish the facts and continuing to monitor the situation," Ghosheh said.

Syria's ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Ja'afari, repeated his government's denial of any role in the Houla killings, blaming them instead on armed terrorist groups that Damascus says are behind the rebellion.

Arab satellite channels showed live video from anti-government demonstrations outside the northern city of Idlib and several other towns protesting the Houla massacre.

Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami says there is an incredible, escalating hatred between Syria's majority Sunni community and President Assad's minority Alawite sect. He says the Houla massacre marks a "turning point" in the Syrian conflict.

"The mask has fallen, and we are right in the middle of the sectarian vengeance, and we will see elements of what we saw in Lebanon, Iraq and perhaps even worse," Ajami said.

Human Rights Watch wants the international community to investigate Friday's killings.

"There has to be more involvement by the international community. There has to be more pressure on the [Syrian] government to stop its crackdown. And there has to be proper investigations," the group's deputy director for the Middle East, Nadim Houry, told VOA. "People need to be able to point fingers."

Syria allies show support

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday both sides are to blame for the massacre. Russia is a longtime ally of Syria and has shielded President Assad from U.N. sanctions sought by Western and Arab powers who oppose his 11-year rule.

Lavrov downplayed Russian support for Assad at a news conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague.  

"We do not support the Syrian government. We support Kofi Annan's [peace] plan," Lavrov said.

Britain has said the Syrian government is primarily responsible for Syria's violence.

"It is part of the pattern of behavior of the Assad regime, I believe, to commit atrocities and then try to blame those atrocities on other people," Hague said following talks with his Russian counterpart. "So we must always have our eyes open to that, difficult as it will be to determine what has happened in any individual incident."

China also has blocked the U.N. Security Council from imposing sanctions on Syria. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Monday that China is "shocked" by the Houla killings but stopped short of directly criticizing the Assad government. Beijing called on all sides in the Syrian conflict to implement Mr. Annan's plan for ending the violence "immediately."

The foreign ministry of Iran, another Assad ally, blamed the massacre on terrorists trying to create chaos and instability in Syria and said the foreign powers backing such attacks are doomed to fail.

The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed in Syria since the government began its crackdown on dissent in March 2011.

Yeranian reported from Cairo and Babb from Washington. VOA'S Scott Bobb in Beirut, Jessica Golloher in Moscow and Shannon Van Sant in Beijing contributed to this report.

You May Like

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Report: US to Sail Warships Near Disputed S. China Sea Islands

Move will signal nonrecognition of Chinese territorial claims over area, Financial Times reports, citing senior US official More

Study Describes Ancient Deltas, Lakes on Mars

Research builds on recent NASA announcement that water flows on red planet today More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanoni
John Owens
October 08, 2015 7:32 PM
Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs