International envoy Kofi Annan on Thursday will propose tasking a group of world powers and key regional players including Iran to come up with a strategy to end the 15-month conflict, UN diplomats said.
Annan will present the United Nations with a plan for creating a "contact group" whose final proposal must be acceptable to Syria's allies Russia and China, which have blocked all UN action, as well as the US and its European allies, who insist that President Bashar Assad must go, they said.
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There has also been talk about a meeting of key world leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Mexico later this month to discuss the growing crisis in Syria and possible next steps, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private.
"It's time for all of us to turn our attention to an orderly transition of power in Syria that would pave the way for democratic, tolerant, pluralistic future," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Wednesday before leaving Azerbaijan for Turkey.
A video posted on the Internet Thursday purportedly shows bodies of women and children who were killed in the central Hama district. "Look, Arab nations – is this a terrorist?" the cameraman says as he points to one of the bodies. "These are woman and children who were leaving school."
The cameraman then points to another body and says, "Look world, Arab countries, foreigners – is this little child a terrorist who collaborated with Israel?" He was referring to Assad's claims that the opposition was collaborating with the Jewish state.
Al Arabiya reported that prominent opposition group the Syrian National Council, said forces loyal to Assad massacred about 100 people, including many women and children, at the small village of al-Kubeir. They said only four villagers survived.
The violence in Syria has grown increasingly chaotic in recent months, and it is difficult to assign blame for much of the bloodshed. The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts from either side. The opposition blames government forces and militias that support them known as shabihas while the government blames rebels and "armed terrorist groups."
Aftermath of Houla massacre (Photo: Reuters)
At the UN, diplomats are increasingly concerned that the country is spiraling toward civil war.
Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy, will give his latest assessment of the Syrian conflict at an open meeting of the UN General Assembly on Thursday morning along with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, and a representative of UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. Annan will then brief the UN Security Council behind closed doors Thursday afternoon and have dinner with ambassadors from the council's five permanent nations - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France, a council diplomat said.
Reports by Syrian activists of the surge of bloodshed in Hama province late Wednesday are bound to reinforce the growing belief that Annan's six-point peace plan is unraveling.
The violence comes on the heels of a horrific massacre on May 25 and 26 in Houla, a cluster of villages in the central Homs province, which left over 100 dead including many women and children gunned down in their homes. UN investigators blamed pro-government gunmen for at least some of the killings but the Syrian regime denied responsibility and blamed rebels for the attacks.
US Ambassador Susan Rice warned last week that the worst but most probable scenario in Syria is a failure of Annan's peace plan and a spreading conflict that creates "a major crisis" not only in Syria but also region-wide. To avoid this, Rice urged Syria to implement the plan and if it doesn't she said the Security Council should set aside its differences and increase the pressure on Syria with sanctions.
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner followed up Wednesday, warning Syria that UN sanctions may be near and calling for the world to exert "maximum financial pressure" on Assad's government.
Russia and China, however, who have vetoed two resolutions threatening possible sanctions, issued a joint statement after a summit in Beijing reiterating their opposition to any outside military interference or forceful imposition of "regime change" in Syria. The statement also indicated opposition to UN sanctions.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that Moscow is proposing an international conference on Syria to try to persuade all Syrian opposition groups to respect Annan's plan, end all violence and sit down for talks.
"Russia considers it essential to fulfill Kofi Annan's peace plan along with the UN Security Council resolution that approved this plan," Lavrov said in remarks posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry's website.
"We believe that it's necessary to convene a meeting of the countries which have a real influence with various opposition groups" including the permanent members of the UN Security Council, Turkey, Iran, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the European Union, he said.
While Lavrov focused on getting the divided opposition to implement the Annan plan, Clinton in recent days has been trying to open the door to a compromise with Russia, calling Assad's ouster a necessary outcome of any political transition but not necessarily a "precondition." The nuance suggests the US is willing to allow Assad to hang on in power for part of a structured regime change.
Key nations have also been working on trying "to bind Russia into some sort of transition strategy on Syria," a UN diplomat said, pointing to Clinton's contacts with Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary William Hague's visit to Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin's visits to Germany and France.
UN diplomats said the key to the success of any Annan initiative is whether it can get all parties behind a transition strategy, and that still remains a distant goal.
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