Kofi Annan fails to kickstart peace talks in Syria

Former UN head meets rejection from both Assad's regime and opposition activists

After coming face to face with activists who witnessed the horrors of Syria's bloody uprising first hand, Kofi Annan left the country empty-handed yesterday without a deal to end the crisis.

Before leaving Damascus, the former United Nations secretary-general held a second round of talks with President Bashar al-Assad, during which he said he had proposed an initiative which "will have a real impact on the ground".

"It's going to be difficult but we have to have hope," he said, adding that the plan to end violence and start a political dialogue would establish a "solid foundation for a democratic Syria". But his parting words came after both the Syrian regime and opposition groups rejected immediate negotiations.

President Assad said he could not countenance a political solution while "terrorist groups" were still operating against him. Syrian troops maintained the heat on opposition strongholds yesterday, shelling Homs and using tanks to bombard Idlib, the north-western city close to the Turkish border.

Opposition leaders, meanwhile, said dialogue was unthinkable while the government continued its brutal crackdown, which the UN estimates has cost 7,500 lives. "It's impossible to think about talks while the army is shelling houses," said Dr Abdel Aziz al-Khair, spokesman for the National Co-ordination Committee, an opposition group which met with Mr Annan during his visit. The former UN chief met activists from the capital to the besieged protest hub of Homs and the southern city of Deraa in a 50-minute session at the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus.

"He is very professional and was quite careful to show no expression at all but he clearly sympathises with what he hears," said Dr Khair. "We asked him about his conclusions after meeting the Syrian officials. He said that everything was still under discussion and it was too early for conclusions."

But Mr Annan's visit was dismissed as "useless" by at least one activist in Homs. A man who called himself Abo Emad told The Independent that the former UN chief's mission "would not help".

"You can't have dialogue with someone who is killing," he said.

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