Hague sent packing by Russia as Annan peace plan crumbles

Moscow backing of Assad leaves hopes for united front in tatters

Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus yesterday in a desperate bid to rescue his peace plan and prevent Syria from sinking deeper into civil war, but hopes of a united international front were dashed when Russia refused to unequivocally condemn Bashar al-Assad's regime for the Houla massacre.

Mr Annan held talks with the Syrian President while the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, sat through a tense press conference in Moscow in which his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, insisted that all sides shared the blame for the massacres of the past few days.

Russia's backing of a UN Security Council statement condemning the deaths on Friday of more than 100 civilians in Houla had raised hopes that Moscow may finally relax its opposition to putting real pressure on Mr Assad's regime, which Russia views as a key ally in a volatile region. Mr Lavrov conceded that government forces bore the main responsibility for the massacre, but insisted that the presence of knife and bullet wounds on some corpses meant the opposition was also involved. Mr Lavrov also suggested that recent bombings in Syria bore "all the hallmarks of al-Qa'ida".

He said: "We are dealing with a situation in which both sides evidently had a hand in the deaths of innocent people."

Mr Lavrov also repeatedly accused other nations of egging the rebels on and pushing them to break the ceasefire and provoke a response from Mr Assad's forces, in the hope of forcing international intervention.

"All the parties involved need to be playing the same tune," Mr Lavrov said.

"We should be attempting to implement the peace plan and not trying to change the regime. It's time to choose between pursuing geopolitical goals and saving lives."

As Mr Annan arrived in Syria – a country still coming to terms with the deaths of 108 people that include dozens of women and children in Houla – there were reports of escalating fighting in the central city of Hama, where the opposition says Syrian army artillery barrages have killed 41 people.

"I am personally shocked and horrified by the tragic incident in Houla two days ago, which took so many innocent lives, children, women and men," Mr Annan said before entering talks with Mr Assad and other senior officials.

The UN's peace envoy said that all sides of the conflict had to end the bloodshed, insisting that "this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone with a gun".

The Syrian government continues to blame the Houla massacre on "terrorists" and Sunni fundamentalists, but has not spelt out in convincing detail how it believes the mass killings occurred.

Anti-government opposition sources in Damascus said they have been told by surviving villagers at Houla that, after fighting between the Free Syrian Army and regular government forces last Friday, Alawite militiamen entered the village and began the massacre. They said the militiamen were acting in retaliation for the killing of a government informant in their village a month ago, but this could not be independently confirmed.

The mood in Damascus is becoming increasingly tense as people absorb the shock of the atrocity at Houla. There is the sound of sporadic shooting in some parts of the capital and the explosion of a bomb near a school in one suburb sent parents racing to pick up their children. Government control is tight in the centre of the city and there are many more checkpoints late at night.

Mr Annan's original plan envisioned a ceasefire beginning on 12 April, but it is now being broken on a daily basis, according to the UN monitoring team. Few Syrians expect Mr Assad or the leadership of the regime he represents to consider giving up or even sharing power unless they face the prospect of losing their last allies. They also look for support to Iran, allied with Syria for 30 years, and, to a lesser extent, Iraq.

Mr Annan faces a difficult task to get either the Syrian government or the rebels to implement his six-point peace plan signed seven week ago. A national dialogue now looks unlikely because of the hatred and distrust between the two sides. And the government does not feel strong enough to allow the release of detainees or a withdrawal of heavy weapons from cities as it promised.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?