|AL Jazeera English Middle East|
Joint UN-Arab League envoy wants single process of mediation as troops launch ground assault on city of Homs.
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2012 03:50
| Kofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, has said the international community should unite behind his mission to speak with one powerful voice to end the country's bloody crisis. |
"Let me say one thing, if we are going to succeed it is extremely important that we all accept there should be one process of mediation - the one that the UN and the Arab League have asked me to lead," Annan told reporters on Wednesday after meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York.
Asked what message he would take, Annan said: "The message is clear, which is the killing and violence must stop, humanitarian agencies must be given access to do their work. But it is regrettable that it is not happening."
"I would plead with him [Assad] that he should engage, not only with me but with the process we are launching."
The diplomatic move came as Syrian government troops started advancing on parts of Homs, the country's third largest city, after weeks of artillery bombardment.
The latest assault, which appeared to have started overnight after power was cut to most of the area, saw troops clashing with fighters when they tried to enter the opposition stronghold of Bab Amr.
Opposition activists said heavy fighting erupted at the al-Bassel football field on the outskirts of Bab Amr.
There were reports that elite troops of the Fourth Armoured Division, commanded by President Bashar al-Assad's brother Maher, had deployed with tanks around Bab Amr.
The activists also said Syrian soldiers abandoned checkpoints in the northern part of Homs, in the neighbourhoods of Al-Khaldia and Bayada.
The troops then started a heavy shelling campaign, the activists said, adding that there was sporadic shelling of other opposition areas in and around Homs.
Soldiers are reportedly also searching houses and other buildings for army deserters who have since joined the opposition Free Syria Army.
"It is obvious that they are launching a major offensive against the strongholds of the Free Syrian Army," said Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from neighbouring Lebanon.
"President Assad and the government have made it clear, he has said that he wants this to be a decisive month. They believe that in this month they can contain the opposition, they can crush the armed opposition and that's what they are trying to do."
China backs aid
Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign minister said his country would back international efforts to send humanitarian aid to Syria, after Western powers proposed a UN Security Council resolution authorising humanitarian aid.
The US has drafted an outline for the resolution, which demands access for humanitarian aid workers to besieged towns and an end to the violence there.
"The pressing task now is for all sides to cease violence in the Syrian conflict, and to launch as soon as possible inclusive political dialogue and together deliberate on a reform plan," Yang Jiechi told Nabil Elaraby, the head of the Arab League, during a phone call late on Tuesday.
It was not clear whether Yang's remarks meant China would consider the proposed Security Council resolution.
China has been widely condemned for its handling of the Syria crisis. Elaraby has previously said China lost diplomatic capital in the Arab world after it joined Russia in vetoing two previous Security Council resolutions.
In a related development, Venezuela has said it is ready to send more fuel to Syria if requested, after confirming that two shipments of diesel were sent last year.
"They asked us on two occasions for diesel shipments and on two occasions, we provided them. They each contained 300,000 barrels," Rafael Ramirez, the Venezuelan oil minister, told journalists on Wednesday.
"If they ask us again, we'll give them more," Ramirez said. "We have a wide range of agreements with Syria," he said, adding that Syria was "a country harassed by imperialism."
Jihad Makdisi, a spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry, said on Wednesday that calls for arming the country's opposition constituted an aggressive act against his country.
"Any party that issues such declarations will carry the political responsibility for the bloodshed of Syrians," he said.
Makdisi said that a call from Qatar for arming Syria's opposition was nothing new, adding that "arming the opposition will harm any legitimate demands of the people - to which," he claimed, his government "is willing to respond".
The White House, for its part, said al-Qaeda's efforts to take advantage of the violence in Syria meant it was not the time to begin sending arms to opponents of Assad.
"Now is not the time to further militarise the situation in Syria," Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said. He said applying political pressure on Assad to leave office and to cease the military crackdown on dissidents was a better option than sending in weapons.
Al Jazeera and agencies