Syria Accepts Annan Peace Plan as Assad Tours Neighborhood in Homsإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Syria has accepted a proposal crafted by Kofi Annan that aims to end the bloodshed roiling the country, the envoy's spokesman said Tuesday, in a move cautiously welcomed by Western states.
As monitors reported almost 10,000 dead in the year-long uprising, and with at least another 17 people killed on Tuesday, U.N.-Arab League envoy Annan in Beijing cautioned that implementing his six-point plan is the key to peace.
Annan's plan includes calls for a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire and access to all areas affected by the fighting in Syria.
"The Syrian government has written to the Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan accepting his six-point plan, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council," Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement issued in Geneva.
"Mr. Annan views this as an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," he said.
The former U.N. secretary general held talks in Beijing with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who pledged his support for his mediation efforts -- as did Russian President Dmitry Medvedev when Annan visited Moscow over the weekend.
China and Russia -- both allies of Syria -- have provoked Western fury by twice blocking U.N. Security Council resolutions that condemned President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
According to Fawzi, Annan has written to President Bashar al-Assad asking Damascus to "put its (plan's) commitments into immediate effect."
He has also urged the release of people detained over the past year of the Syrian uprising.
"Mr. Annan has stressed that implementation will be key, not only for the Syrian people, who are caught in the middle of this tragedy, but also for the region and the international community as a whole," Fawzi said.
Western nations gave a cautious welcome to the news, with most envoys saying Syria's actions now will be a test of its attitude to international calls to halt the killings.
The United States called Syria's reported acceptance of the Annan peace plan an "important step," but said the proof will be the actions of Assad's regime.
"We certainly view the fact that Kofi Annan reports that he's had a positive response as an important step," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
"But as with all things with the Assad regime, the proof will be in the actual action that he takes.
"We will be looking for him to take immediate action to begin implementing Annan's proposals, starting with silencing his guns and allowing humanitarian aid to go in," Nuland said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, gave a new toll of almost 10,000 people killed in violence linked to the crackdown on dissent by the regime since March last year.
A total of 9,734 people have died, including 7,056 civilians, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
The United Nations on Tuesday gave an updated toll of "more than 9,000 people" killed, but did not specify if the deaths included soldiers and rebel troops.
"Violence on the ground has continued unabated," Robert Serry, a U.N. Middle East peace envoy, told a Security Council meeting in New York.
"Credible estimates put the probable death toll since the beginning of the uprising one year ago to more than 9,000. It is urgent to stop the fighting and prevent a further violent escalation of the conflict."
Even as Serry was speaking, Syrian forces were pressing their assault across the country with at least 17 people, including three women, killed on Tuesday, the Observatory said.
The monitoring group said 11 of the dead were civilians, among them one man killed in intense clashes near the central town of Qusayr, close to the border with Lebanon.
Officials said the clashes also spilled over into Lebanon as Syrian troops chasing rebels made a brief incursion into a sparsely populated area of Lebanon's eastern Bekaa region.
State television reported Assad had inspected troops in the flashpoint Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs city, site of a fierce battle between regime forces and rebel troops that killed hundreds.
Washington's ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, told a U.S. congressional hearing Assad's regime is committing human rights atrocities, including torture, that could amount to "crimes against humanity."
But the envoy, recalled for security reasons, argued against further militarization of the conflict, saying diplomatic pressure should prevail on Assad to give up power.
With diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodletting intensifying, Syria's opposition factions met for a second day in Istanbul to agree on common objectives for the future ahead of a weekend international conference.
The Syrian National Council (SNC) main opposition group unveiled a proposal to lay the foundations of a new Syria to some 400 opponents of Assad's regime, at a closed door meeting at a hotel outside Istanbul.
But unity proved elusive.
The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which groups Arab nationalist parties, Kurds and socialists, shunned the gathering.