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Clashes rage across Syria despite U.N. statement
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops shelled and raided opposition areas and clashed with rebel fighters around the country Thursday despite U.N. efforts to stop the bloodshed so aid could reach suffering civilians.
Activists cited the fresh violence in dismissing a U.N. Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire to allow for dialogue between all sides on a political solution. The government of President Bashar Assad also played down the statement, saying Damascus is under no threats or ultimatums.
Mounting international condemnation of Mr. Assad’s regime and high-level diplomacy have failed to ease the year-old Syrian conflict, which the United Nations says has killed more than 8,000 people. Activists reported dozens of people killed Thursday, including at least 12 government soldiers.
The Syrian uprising began last March with protests calling for political reforms. Unrest spread as Mr. Assad’s forces violently tried to quash dissent and many in the opposition took up arms to defend their towns and attack government troops.
“Civil strife of the sort we are seeing in Syria can destroy whole societies,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Malaysia on Thursday. Mr. Ban reiterated the statement approved by the U.N. Security Council’s 15 members the day before, which sought to send a unified message on the conflict.
The statement endorsed a six-point plan by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, that includes a cease-fire by Syrian forces, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate injured people and provide humanitarian aid and inclusive talks about a political solution.
Western countries have been pushing for Security Council action for months, but Russia and China twice have vetoed stronger resolutions that criticized the regime. Wednesday’s presidential statement becomes part of the council’s permanent record but is not legally binding.
To gain Russian and Chinese support, France watered down the text, removing clauses that could be seen as opening the door for sanctions or military action.
Russia and China have called previous resolutions unbalanced for blaming the conflict solely on the government, and Russian officials worry that a strongly worded resolution could allow for military intervention against Mr. Assad, as happened in Libya last year.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Thursday that Mr. Annan will visit Moscow in the coming days. Mr. Bogdanov also said Russia will receive a delegation from the National Coordination Committee, a Syrian opposition group.
The U.S. and Europe have called on Mr. Assad to step down but have said they will not intervene militarily. While Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Libya have spoken positively of arming the rebels, no country is openly doing so.
Syria’s state-run news agency, SANA, played down the U.N. statement Thursday, saying there are no threats or ultimatums against Damascus. The news agency’s report echoed an earlier statement by Russia.
Activists in Syria dismissed the statement as too late and impossible to implement since Syrian forces have surrounded entire towns and villages and regularly shell civilian areas.
“Is there any way the army will remove its checkpoints for two hours?” said Fadi al-Yassin via satellite phone from the northern province of Idlib. “All of that is empty talk, politics, and we’ve gotten fed up with all of these decisions.”
Many activists say they’ve grown frustrated with what they see as international resistance to act.
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