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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid