The Syrian government has reportedly agreed to a six-point peace plan proposed by Kofi Annan, special envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League, to end the year-long conflict. But activists and Lebanese military officers reported that the Syrian government’s troops and rebels had clashed heavily on the border on Tuesday. At least 9,000 people have died in the uprising which has become the “bloodiest and most sustained of the Arab Spring,” says the New York Times.
Western diplomats were skeptical about President Bashar al-Assad’s response, accusing him of seeking — as he has down a number of times throughout the uprising — to bide his time and divide the opposition. Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria, said that
“We will see … exactly what Assad has said. I have to tell you that my own experience with him is you want to see steps on the ground and not just take his word at face value.”
Russia and China have blocked efforts by the United Nations to propose a diplomatic solution to the crisis and have twice vetoed UN Security Council resolutions requiring that Assad stepped down. But both countries have slowly seemed to be more open to negotiate as Assad’s government has continued with its bloody crackdown of its own citizens in areas including Idlib in the north and Dera’a in the south.
Al Jazeera reports that Assad has visited the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, according to SANA, Syria’s state news agency. Assad told residents that “Life will return to normal in Baba Amr, better than it was before” as he inspected a neighborhood wrecked in the weeks-long siege of Homs, an epicenter of resistance. Homs had been under the control of the Syrian Free Army, which agreed to withdraw as the siege continued and residents were increasingly desperate as stores of water, food and medical supplies ran out.
Is Assad Just Biding His Time Again?
Annan’s proposed plan would still mean that Assad would be able to negotiate a transition, just as former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was able to. Saleh dragged out his exit from power over months and rejected deals brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council numerous times before agreeing to transfer power to his vice president and it seems not unlikely that Assad might do the same.
As the Guardian observes, last fall, “Damascus accepted a peace plan put forward by the Arab League and then spent weeks haggling over the ‘modalities’ of issues such as access for monitors.” By January, the Arab League mission was widely “condemned… as a fig leaf for continuing state repression,” with reports of killings as outside observers entered Syria.
Hoshiyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, has said that the Arab League woud support a transfer of power led by Syria.
Syrian Opposition Still Not Unified
The Syrian National Council (SNC), the largest opposition group, was cautious in its response to Assad’s announcement of Annan’s peace proposal. Basma Kodmani, a spokesman in Istanbul, emphasized that “a peaceful transition means that the regime needs to be changed” and thatAssad must step down. Concerns have been raised that some members of the opposition, which is not yet unified, might enter into talks with the Syrian government. Noting the opposition’s lack of trust for the Assad regime, activist activist Louay Safi said that “we are not sure if it’s political manoeuvring or a sincere act.”
The Friends of Syria, which is made up of the US and its European and Arab partners, will meet in Istanbul on Monday to discuss additional measures to further isolate Assad and unite the yet-divided opposition groups.
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