Just a few hours after United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus to try to negotiate a cease-fire, the Syrian army began a military assault on the northern region of Idlib. Activists report that, starting early Saturday morning, tanks and artillery shelled buildings at two-minute intervals. Al Jazeera also reports that sixteen opposition fighters were killed in an ambush in which the opposition killed four soldiers and captured five.
The assault on Idlib suggests that the government is now seeking to subdue other regions after its month-long siege of the Baba Amr district of Homs in central Syria. Dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers had reportedly been amassing in Idlib during the past week. Journalists from the Associated Press reported seeing wounded opposition fighters being taken to medical clinics and families fleeing. One activist said that “We’re expecting something like Baba Amr,” according to the New York Times.
Annan Meets With Assad
On Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had told reporters that the purpose of Annan’s visit was to urge an end to all the fighting between government troops and rebel fighters. While Annan has not yet made any public comments about the meeting, the Syrian state news agency, SANA, reported President Bashar al-Assad’s comments, that no talks with the opposition will be held as long as “armed terrorist groups” are operating in Syria and “spreading chaos and instability.”
Russian Foreign Minister Meets With Arab League in Cairo
Along with China, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for Assad to step down immediately a month ago. During a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo this weekend, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, advised the League against “crude interference” in Syria’s internal affairs, says the BBC. Lavrov said that Russia is not “protecting any regimes” and emphasized that Russia’s position would be of benefit to other Arab countries with restive populations, a statement that the New York Times characterized as a “diplomatic wink at Saudi Arabia, which despite its dismal human rights record, has led the charge to topple Mr. Assad, by invoking his government’s brutality.”
Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have called for arming the opposition to Assad. Officials from the Gulf nations directed blame to Russia for the ongoing violence, which has claimed the lives of at least 7,500 people in the past year. The BBC’s John Leyne noted that the meeting in Cairo has “revealed bitter divisions between the League and Moscow, with Russia finding out just how little support its policy on Syria has.”
Despite the disputes, the meeting ended with a call for an end to the violence in Syria “whatever its source” and a joint statement that rejected foreign intervention while emphasizing the need for humanitarian aid as well as for some sort of system to “objectively monitor the situation.”
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