Kofi Annan is stepping down as U,N.-Arab League peace envoy for Syria, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon announced Thursday as battles raged throughout Syria.
After months of shuttle diplomacy, Annan has failed to produce a breakthrough in Syria's 17-month-long crisis His diplomacy, including a cease-fire brokered in April, has failed to stop fighting between rebels and government forces.
Ban said a search for a replacement has begun.
“My consultations with the League of Arab States Secretary-General are under way with a view to the prompt appointment of a successor who can carry on this crucial peacemaking effort,” he said. “ I remain convinced that yet more bloodshed is not the answer; each day of it will only make the solution more difficult while bringing deeper suffering to the country and greater peril to the region.”
The secretary-general admitted his envoy’s efforts have not worked.
“Both the government and the opposition forces continue to demonstrate their determination to rely on ever-increasing violence,” he said. “In addition, the persistent divisions within the Security Council have themselves become an obstacle to diplomacy, making the work of any mediator vastly more difficult.”
Syria-government allies Russia and China repeatedly blocked action in the Security Council to stiffen penalties against the Syrian regime. Russia said Thursday that it regrets Annan's decision to quit.
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels have used a captured tank to shell a military base in the northern city of Aleppo, as government forces pounded rebel strongholds in the city with tank and artillery fire.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
says the government shelling left seven people dead. The Britain-based group also says cell phone and Internet service is being gradually restored in Aleppo after being cut on Wednesday.
Activists say a security force raid in Damascus on Wednesday left dozens of people dead. Syrian state media said the operation targeted "terrorists," a reference to the rebels.
Another opposition activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said fighting killed six others in the flashpoint city of Homs. The group also reported warplanes flying over Daraa.
Assad has urged his security forces to "step up the fight" against the rebels trying to push him from power.
A Pentagon spokesman says U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Jordan's King Abdullah have discussed what he called the "intolerable acts" of the Syrian regime and the prospects for a political transition in Syria. Panetta is in Jordan as part of a regional tour.
Special Report - Arab Spring: The Evolution of Revolutions
Russia and China have vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria but the General Assembly resolutions are non-binding and cannot be vetoed.
Also, U.S. sources told western media that President Barack Obama signed an order earlier this year allowing the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. agencies to provide support to the rebels.
The National Security Council declined to comment to VOA about the report
The United States has stepped up the rhetoric against Assad. U.S. officials condemned Assad's message calling on his armed forces to keep fighting while his own whereabouts remain unknown.
"We think it’s cowardly, quite frankly, to have a man who’s hiding out of sight be exhorting his armed forces to continue to slaughter the civilians of his own country," said U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.
"We think it’s really despicable to be exhorting his armed forces to continue this slaughter and this bloodshed," he said.
The Syrian leader has not been seen since unknown rebels assassinated four members of his inner circle in a Damascus bombing last month. On Wednesday, he failed to appear to mark his country's Armed Forces Day, instead issuing a written statement.
The bloody 17-month uprising in Syria has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and left millions in need of humanitarian aid.
United Nations agencies say up to three million people in Syria will need food, crops and livestock assistance in the next year.
A statement Thursday by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.N. World Food Program says the findings are based on a joint mission the two agencies conducted in June with Syria's agriculture ministry.
The mission found that the Syrian agricultural sector has lost $1.8 billion this year because of the conflict, with crops such as wheat and barley badly affected.
"While the economic implications of these losses are quite grave, the humanitarian implications are far more pressing," the WFP's representative in Syria, Muhannad Hadi, said in Thursday's statement. "The effects of these major losses are first, and most viciously, felt by the poorest in the country. Most of the vulnerable families the mission visited reported less income and more expenditure - their lives becoming more difficult by the day."
Of the three million people in need of assistance, the U.N. agencies say some 1.5 million need "urgent and immediate" food assistance during the next three to six months, while close to a million people need crop and livestock assistance.
"The most vulnerable families in Syria depend entirely or partly on agriculture and farm animals for food and income. They need emergency support, like seeds, repairs to irrigation systems, animal feed and healthcare," said FAO Representative in Syria Abdulla BinYehia.
"If timely assistance is not provided, the livelihood system of these vulnerable people could simply collapse in a few months' time," he said. "Winter is fast approaching and urgent action is needed before then."
According to the report, farmers have been forced to either abandon farming or leave crops unattended due to insecurity and difficulties such as lack of labor and fuel.
Wheat harvesting has been delayed in Daraa, rural Damascus, Homs and Hama, and the mission says part of the crop could be lost without assistance.
Timeline: Syrian uprising