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Kofi Annan's Syria peace plan at 'dead end' amid fresh atrocities

By Loveday Morris in Beirut and David Usborne in New York

Kofi Annan flew out of Damascus yesterday amid news of a fresh atrocity committed by militias loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and as the Syrian opposition accused Russia of encouraging the regime to commit "savage crimes" against its people after Moscow ruled out supporting any new action at the UN.

Even as evidence emerged of fresh horrors on the ground -- with Mr Annan's observer mission announcing the discovery of the bodies of 13 Syrians who appeared to have been summarily executed -- Russian Deputy Foreign Minster Gennady Gatilov said any new measures at the Security Council would be "premature", diminishing hopes that the shocking massacre at Houla could break the UN deadlock.

The presence of UN monitors has done little to stem the bloodshed, and there have been increasing calls for tougher action, including military intervention, to bring an end to the conflict as hopes for the UN-Arab League backed envoy's six-point peace plan fade.

As the former UN secretary general arrived in Jordan after his two-day visit to Damascus -- where he had met with Mr Assad in a last ditch attempt to save his initiative -- the Syrian National Council (SNC) and two other opposition groups called for international intervention under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which would allow for military force.

"We urge the United Nations Security Council and the international community to intervene immediately to protect the innocent population and end the crimes by the regime, through decisive and unequivocal resolutions," the groups said in a statement.

Haitham al-Maleh, a senior opposition figure, said that Mr Annan's plan had reached a dead end.

"There must be steps at the UN Security Council, and if that can't happen they have to let us have weapons to build our army so we can finish this regime by force," he said.

It had been hoped that the international outrage following the brutal killings of over 100 civilians, including dozens of women and children, by pro-regime forces in their homes last week would mark a turning point for Syria and pressure the country's veto-wielding allies China and Russia to harden their position against Mr Assad's government.

Efforts at the UN to react to the Houla massacre remained mostly stymied, however. Diplomatic sources said they saw little mileage in attempting now to pass a resolution holding the Syrian government responsible because of likely opposition from Russia and China. Other countries on the Council, including Pakistan and India, would also be expected to balk.

Ahead of visits by President Vladimir Putin to Paris and Berlin tomorrow, a Kremlin spokesman said any pressure on him to change his stance on Syria, which notably rules out any outside military intervention and anything resembling it, would be "hardly appropriate".

One possible response being floated by some European countries is increasing the number of blue-beret observers in Syria in the hope of at least of discouraging fresh violence and also raising the chances that they can bear witness.

That, one diplomat said, would make it harder for Russia to insist that government-backed militia are not responsible.

But aides to Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, have cautioned that raising the number of monitors above the nearly 300 who are there now could make them more vulnerable to attack.

(© Independent News Service)

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