Kofi Annan flies in – but still Homs feels Assad's rage

As the UN special envoy arrives in Syria, with dozens still being killed every day, activists dismiss plan for political settlement

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The Independent Online

Kofi Annan arrives in Syria today on a mission to push the regime to end its bloody crackdown on dissent and hold talks with the opposition, but before the former UN secretary-general had even touched down in Damascus, activists rejected his call for dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad.

Opposition leaders described Mr Annan's plan for a political solution to the conflict as "disappointing" after the year-long military crackdown that has killed at least 7,500 people. The rejection of negotiations dealt a blow to efforts that might have saved Syria from a full-blown civil war, but the opposition was adamant that the time for talks was over and military might was the only way to force Assad from power.

"These kind of comments are disappointing and do not give a lot of hope for people in Syria being massacred every day," said Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella group of opposition activists, referring to Mr Annan's plan for a negotiated peace.

"It feels like we are watching the same movie being repeated over and over again. Any political solution will not succeed if it is not accompanied by military pressure on the regime."

The Syrian opposition wants foreign governments to provide military support for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loosely defined force fighting the regime, and the establishment of no-fly zones backed by the West. They describe Mr Annan's mission as a distraction from efforts that might actually stand a chance of toppling the regime.

A special envoy for the UN and Arab League, Mr Annan is due to travel to Damascus today and meet with Mr Assad. He has warned against arming the Syrian opposition and advocates trying to end the violence through diplomatic measures. "I hope that no one is thinking very seriously of using force in this situation," Mr Annan said from Cairo on Thursday. "I believe any further militarisation would make the situation worse. Ultimately the solution lies in a political settlement."

Ahead of Mr Annan's visit, at least 62 people were killed yesterday around Syria, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees. There has been a relative calm in the besieged city of Homs in the past few days, following an intense month-long bombardment that had forced FSA fighters to retreat from their stronghold in the Baba Amr district. However, Syrian military forces loyal to the regime launched new attacks yesterday, using tanks and mortars to shell the city.

Abo Emad, an opposition activist in Homs, told The Independent that mortars hit groups of men leaving mosques after Friday prayers. He said Syrians did not believe Mr Annan had any chance of ending the conflict through negotiation.

"They are just giving the regime more chances to kill more people. Even the UN and the Arab League, they think they are helping us, but it is not the truth," he said. The only way the world could help the Syrian people, he added, was to support the FSA.

With the prospects for diplomacy faltering, more regime members appear to be switching sides. Turkish media reported that two Syrian generals, a colonel and two sergeants had yesterday defected and travelled to Turkey, a day after Syria's deputy oil minister deserted Assad's regime.

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