Thursday 19 October 2017

Syria 'in hell' as West tries to save Annan peace plan

Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Kfr Suseh in Damascus. Photo: Reuters
Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Kfr Suseh in Damascus. Photo: Reuters

Richard Spencer, Damien McElroy and Ben Farmer

WESTERN powers were drawing up a fresh resolution for the United Nations Security Council last night in an attempt to rescue Kofi Annan's peace plan for Syria, as France demanded it be made legally binding on Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Laurent Fabius, the new French foreign minister, said his country wanted a resolution under the UN's Chapter 7 provision that would enforce the six-point plan with the threat of sanctions, legal action or even military intervention. He said a no-fly zone was being considered.

Describing the conflict as a "civil war", Mr Fabius said: "Every day dozens and dozens of Syrians are dying at the hands of Bashar al-Assad's regime. We have therefore decided to strengthen our efforts to stop this regime of death and blood."

William Hague, Britain's Foreign Secretary, will meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, today to appeal to him to support setting up an international contact group to help rescue the Annan plan without the presence of Syria's closest ally, Iran.

Mr Hague said Syria was "on the edge of a total collapse" and that he would press Moscow to use its "full leverage" on Mr Assad to comply with the Annan plan.

Russia and China have refused to countenance any UN-backed sanctions against Syria. However, Western diplomats are hoping that a new resolution, which makes them conditional on breaches of the peace plan, could prove a new way forward.

Both the Syrian government and the opposition, for different reasons, rejected descriptions of the conflict as having descended into "civil war".

But there were running battles between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army..

The Vatican's ambassador to Syria said it had started its descent into hell.

Nuncio Mario Zenari would not be drawn on whether the country was in the midst of a "civil war", but he said "the impression prevails (that for) the people a descent into hell has started".

Overnight, the FSA withdrew from the town of Haffa, north-east of Lattakia, after several days of intense bombardment. The Syrian army moved in during the morning, with state media declaring it was "cleansing the area of terrorists".

Tens of thousands of residents of the town, normally 40,000 strong, have fled in recent days.

Turkey said 2,500 Syrian refugees had crossed its border nearby in the previous two days alone. An activist speaking from Lattakia said Haffa had been left a "ghost town", and that residents of nearby villages, which are mostly Alawite and loyal to the Assad family, had entered and burned houses.

Heavy fighting continued in other parts of Syria yesterday. Regime forces bombarded the Sunni town of Anadan, near Aleppo, an opposition stronghold, killing 15 people, including six children under the age of 12, according to the Syrian Network of Human Rights. A spokesman for the group said that more than 50 people were confirmed dead in the country by yesterday afternoon.

A searing report due to be released today by Amnesty International described a pattern of indiscriminate violence and torture used by the regime in opposition areas. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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