Fighting intensified between Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels in several provinces a day after United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan abandoned his effort to mediate a cease-fire.
Clashes broke out in Hama, Aleppo, Daraa and the suburbs of Damascus, the Local Coordination Committees in Syria said in an e-mail. The activist group reported heavy government shelling of these areas. It said 105 people were killed in the violence today, including 69 in the Arbaeen neighborhood in Hama and 13 in Damascus and its suburbs.
The government is sending massive reinforcements to Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city, Col. Abdul-Latif Abdul-Latif, deputy commander of the Free Syrian Army, said in an interview from Aleppo with Al Arabiya television. Assad’s troops have been using artillery, helicopter gunships and fighter jets to drive out the rebels, who moved into the city last month.
Abdul-Latif said he expected “a huge war” in Aleppo. The Free Syrian Army has deployed its fighters along the roads leading to Aleppo to prevent the troops from reaching the city, Abdul-Latif said.
Aleppo, the country’s most populous city, is shaping up as the biggest test yet of opposition fighters’ capabilities against artillery and air power, with thousands of civilians slipping across increasingly porous borders to seek refuge.
Palestinian refugee communities in Damascus and its suburbs are “experiencing, more than ever, the effects of the escalating armed conflict in Syria,” the UN Relief and Works Agency said in a statement from Geneva. It said initial, unconfirmed reports suggest that about 20 people were killed and scores were wounded in Yarmouk Camp on the outskirts of Damascus yesterday when it was struck by artillery shells.
Anti-Assad protests were reported in several cities and towns across Syria following Friday prayers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said in e-mails.
Annan’s departure after less than six months is a blow to international efforts to broker a diplomatic solution to the increasingly violent conflict. What began in March 2011 as a largely peaceful protest movement has become a civil war.
‘Lack of Unity’
Annan blamed both sides for the increasing militarization of the conflict and said a “clear lack of unity” in the UN Security Council -- where Russia has used its veto three times to protect the Assad government -- “fundamentally changed” his ability to be effective. His resignation as the special envoy appointed by the UN and Arab League is effective Aug. 31, and talks are under way to find his successor.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague today called Annan’s resignation “a bleak moment” for efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict and said Britain will step up its support for rebels without sending arms. He spoke to the BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Annan “worked tirelessly to try to build consensus in the international community, end the bloodshed, and usher in a government that would meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” according to a statement. “Unfortunately, the Security Council was blocked from giving him key tools to advance his efforts.”
Syria expressed “regret” over Annan’s resignation, the state-run Syria News Agency said. Citing a Foreign Ministry statement, SANA said Syria had always expressed its “full commitment” to Annan’s plan and accused unnamed countries of obstructing his mission by “supporting and harboring the armed terrorist groups leading to the continuation of violence in the country.”
Annan’s decision “reflects the reality that the center of gravity in this crisis lies on the ground within Syria, and international diplomacy has become largely irrelevant,” Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said by telephone. “Annan was dealt a very weak hand and had very few cards to play.”
The 22-member Arab League, which suspended Syria last year, is trying to keep diplomacy alive at the UN by calling a vote today on a largely symbolic resolution “expressing grave concern about Syrian authorities’ threat to use chemical or biological weapons.”
Passages in the text demanding that Assad step down and calling on states to apply economic sanctions were removed in a bid to gain more than 100 votes in the 193-member assembly.
Russia, which sells arms to Syria, won’t back the resolution because it’s “one-sided and unbalanced,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday.
Interfax news agency reported that Russian warships with marines on board plan to dock at the country’s naval resupply base in the Syrian port of Tartus within days. Three landing craft carriers will spend several days at the port to pick up supplies of fresh food and water before departing for the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, Interfax said today, citing an unidentified official at the Russian military’s General Staff.
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