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.

    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora