In Syria, more violence, no breakthrough after Annan visit

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BEIRUT -- A day after special envoy Kofi Annan urged Syrian authorities to implement a U.N. peace plan, opposition activists reported fresh clashes and the United Nations monitoring team inside Syria found evidence of an apparent new massacre.

There was no word of a breakthrough in the U.N. envoy’s stalled peace plan, which, among other mandates, calls on Syria President Bashar Assad to withdraw his forces from populated areas and allow people the right to freely protest. In Damascus on Tuesday, Annan had pressed Assad to ‘act now.’

Annan on Wednesday was visiting neighboring Jordan, where he labeled the more than 14-month Syria conflict ‘a very complex issue.’

Meanwhile, a coordinated wave of expulsions of Syrian diplomats continued, as Syria’s neighbor, Turkey gave Syrian diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. Syrian officials, in turn, reportedly ordered the top remaining Dutch diplomat to leave Damascus, the Syrian capital.


On Tuesday, many Western nations, including the United States, France and Britain, expelled Syrian diplomats as a protest against the attack last week in the town of Houla that left more than 100 people slain, the majority of them women and children. Syria has denied involvement in the deaths, but the U.N. has said evidence points to squads of pro-government thugs who went on a house-to-house killing spree.

On Wednesday, U.N. observers reported 13 bodies had been found near the eastern city of Deir Alzour, which has been the site of anti-government protests.

“All of the bodies had their hands tied behind their backs and some appear to have been shot in the head from a short distance,” said a U.N. statement attributed to Gen. Robert Mood, head of the world body’s observer mission in Syria.

Amateur video showed the victims, seemingly all men, lying face down on the ground, many wearing what appeared to be blindfolds fashioned from white cloth.

Mood was “deeply disturbed by this appalling and inexcusable act,” the U.N. statement said. “He calls on all parties to exercise restraint and end the cycle [of] violence for the sake of Syria and the Syrian people.”

In Russia, Syria’s major international ally, the Foreign Ministry reiterated its opposition to any outside intervention in Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has voiced suspicions that some nations may be using revulsion about the massacre in Houla to push for some kind of foreign action in Syria. Russia has twice vetoed Security Council measures condemning the Syrian government’s handling of the crisis.


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-- Patrick J. McDonnell and Alexandra Sandels