Annan ‘gravely concerned’ about rising violence in Syria, Homs shelling
(CNN) — U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan is “gravely concerned” about reports that fighting between Syrian government and opposition forces has escalated, his spokesman said Monday.
“He is particularly worried about the recent shelling in Homs as well as reports of the use of mortars, helicopters and tanks in the town of Al-Haffa, Lattakia,” spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement. “There are indications that a large number of civilians are trapped in these towns.”
The statement called for the protection of civilians and demanded that U.N. observers be granted immediate access to Al-Haffa.
An online video purporting to show live images of Homs on Monday showed more than a dozen explosions in an hour.Despite fresh political maneuvering on both sides of the Syrian crisis, opposition activists said at least 61 people were killed across the country Monday.
Shells rained on Deir Ezzor province, where eight bodies were found after regime forces raided a city at dawn, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.
In southwestern Syria, explosions and gunfire targeted the city of Douma as forces conducted raids and made arrests, the LCC said.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that 25 members of the army and law enforcement as well as one civilian who had been “targeted by armed terrorist groups while they were in (the) line of duty” were buried Monday.
Over the weekend, the opposition Syrian National Council elected minority Kurdish activist Abdul Basit Sieda to unite dissidents seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Sieda, a native of Hasaka, Syria, who lives in Sweden, called on officials in Syria, Russia and China “to think carefully about the situation now because the whole stability of the region — if not the whole stability of the world — is at stake here. We would like to call upon them to support the Syrian people.”
Russia and China have blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions that many other nations said could have pushed al-Assad to stop the killing. The two countries, which have major trade ties with Syria, said they want more balanced resolutions that call for a cessation of violence on all sides.
Russia is viewed as a key ally of Syria. While Western countries have criticized Russia for its arms trade with Syria, Russia has insisted it is not propping up al-Assad’s regime.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday there was no alternative to Annan’s peace plan, despite evidence that it’s being violated daily.
“The situation looks more and more grim,” Lavrov said. “For the first time since the beginning of this crisis, we see the question of foreign intervention. And our position remains unchanged. We will never agree to sanction the use of force in the U.N. Security Council.”
The United Nations has said at least 9,000 people have died since the crisis erupted in March 2011. Opposition groups, however, say the toll is higher, with estimates ranging from at least 12,000 to more than 14,000.
CNN cannot independently confirm reports of casualties or violence in Syria, as the government has restricted access by international journalists.
Dozens of countries have recognized the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition, though many members of the group’s leadership are expatriates.
Asked how he planned to bridge a gap between the Syrian opposition in exile and the opposition inside the country, Sieda said, “We are in direct communication and contact with revolutionary forces inside. We are always communicating with them. … The relationship between us and the forces inside has never been stronger.”
But al-Assad has said he will not deal with opposition members influenced from the outside.
While Sieda railed against the violence committed by al-Assad’s forces, the regime itself announced a new stage in its argument that “armed terrorist groups” — and not government forces — are responsible for the violence.
A program on state-run TV said “that terrorists of various nationalities from the terrorist organization Jabhet al-Nasra, which is affiliated with al Qaeda, planned and carried out” bombings in Damascus on March 8. The cars used in the attack were driven by a Jordanian terrorist and a Syrian Palestinian, “and were trailed by an Iraqi,” the state-run news agency SANA reported.