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1 Mar, 2012 02:00

Annan calls for end to violence ahead of Syria visit

The joint UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan says national dialogue is essential to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. Meanwhile, the long-running battle for Homs seems to have reached its peak.

Annan, who is planning a soon visit to the troubled country, has called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to assist in a bid to end the country’s bloodiest turmoil in decades.“I would plead with (Assad) that he should engage – not only with me but with the process we are launching,” he said. Annan has called on Assad to stop the violence immediately and allow humanitarian agencies into the country.Russia hopes Damascus will sanction the envoy’s visit, says the Foreign Ministry. Annan might also come to Moscow as part of an international effort to resolve the Syrian crisis.“The UN and Arab League envoy to Syria has received an invitation to come to Moscow for consultations,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote on his Twitter feed.RT's Marina Portnaya has more on Kofi Annan's visit to Syria

Camille Otrakji, a contributing editor with Syria Comment online magazine, doubts that the UN is ready to reap the benefits of Kofi Annan’s visit to Damascus, if it means softening their line on Assad.  “It is an opportunity for the UN to start talking to Assad. Until now they have been betting everything that Assad would fall. I assume that by sending Kofi Annan, who is almost a friend to the Syrian President, they are trying to be a little bit nicer. But I think they are not ready yet,” he told RT.The UN-Arab League envoy revealed plans to visit Syria after meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York, during which Ban strongly urged Syrian authorities to extend their full cooperation. He also said he was “extremely disappointed” that Syria did not allow UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos to visit.Annan was appointed UN and Arab League envoy for the crisis in Syria on February 23 following a report by a UN-appointed panel on the deteriorating humanitarian situation there. The Kremlin supported the appointment, saying it expects that such an authoritative politician will contribute to a solution of the pressing issues in Syria.The UN estimates that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising began in March 2011.

Homs to be 'cleansed'?

On Wednesday evening the Syrian army launched a renewed ground assault on the rebel-held neighborhood of Baba Amr in the flashpoint city of Homs.“The army has started combing the area building by building and house by house. Now the troops are searching every basement and tunnel for arms and terrorists,” a security source told AFP in Damascus.He said that only “pockets” of resistance were left in the city.Eventually, reports emerged the rebels retreated from Homs.However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights contradicts these claims, saying that fighting has not reached the center of the city and is still confined to the outskirts. Meanwhile, several French officers were detained by pro-Assad troops during a recent operation in Homs, RT’s Maria Finoshina reports from Damascus. The officers claimed they had been taken hostage by opposition fighters, but failed to specify what they had been doing in the city.