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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs