Clinton Warns Time Running Out to Save Syriaإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday warned time was running out to save Syria from a "catastrophic assault" after international envoy Kofi Annan admitted his peace mission was failing.
The comments by the top U.S. diplomat came as 15 people, including 12 civilians, were killed across the country, according to a rights watchdog.
"It should be abundantly clear to those who support the Assad regime their days are numbered," Clinton told reporters on the sidelines of a conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo.
But she acknowledged that efforts, led by the United Nations and Arab League envoy Annan, to get the regime of President Bashar Assad to halt its brutal crackdown on the opposition were proving difficult.
Annan himself in an interview with the French daily Le Monde said his six-point plan to end hostilities in Syria had not been successful so far, and there was no guarantee it would bear fruit.
Clinton added: "The sooner there can be an end to the violence and a begetting of a political transition process, not only will fewer people die, but there's a chance to save the Syrian state from a catastrophic assault that would be dangerous not only to the country, but the region."
Clinton was speaking after attending talks in Paris on Friday in which countries pledged to increase pressure on Assad to step down by seeking a tough U.N. resolution backed by a threat of sanctions.
More than 17,000 people have now died since the uprising began in March last year, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who also attended the donors' conference in Tokyo, renewed his call on the U.N. Security Council for collective action to pressure Syria to stop the violence.
"It is crucial for the Security Council... to pressure the parties to prevent any further escalation of the conflict," Ban told a separate news briefing on Sunday.
"President Assad must understand that things cannot continue as they are. Fundamental change is needed," he said.
The U.N. chief added: "Syrian people have suffered too long and too much. I sincerely hope that the member states of the U.N. Security Council will look into this issue more seriously... sharing the common responsibility by taking collective action as soon as possible."
On the ground on Sunday, Syrian forces, under the cover of heavy shelling, attempted to storm the rebel strongholds of Qusayr and Rastan in the central province of Homs, triggering fierce clashes, the Observatory said.
"Fierce clashes took place before dawn between regime forces and rebels in the vicinity of Qusayr, accompanied by heavy shelling on Qusayr and neighboring villages as the regime tried to regain control," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France Presse by phone.
In Rastan, "the army carried out shelling in an attempt to storm the city and clashed with fighters from the rebel combat battalions, forcing the government troops to retreat," he said.
Both towns have been outside regime control for months and are strongholds for the rebel Free Syrian Army.
Local Coordinating Committees, made up of anti-regime activists on the ground, said explosions rocked Qusayr, located near the border with Lebanon, amid indiscriminate shelling and shooting.
The army "renewed shelling on residential areas using artillery and tanks," the LCC reported.
Regime forces also shelled villages in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, killing three people, including two children, as well as Aazaz town in the northern province of Aleppo, according to the Observatory.
The highest casualties were reported in central province of Hama, where six people were killed in gunfire in the village of Sahel al-Ghab, it added.
The violence followed a bloody day in which 77 people were killed on Saturday, among them 39 civilians, 25 soldiers and 13 rebels, according to the Britain-based watchdog.
Also on Saturday, the conflict spilled into Lebanon, leaving two girls dead and 10 other people wounded by rocket fire from Syrian territory, explosions and a gunbattle, hospital and security sources said.