Annan confirms Syria meet, Iran to be briefed |
Gulf Times - 28 June, 2012
An attack on a pro-government television station near Damascus killed seven staff yesterday, as peace envoy Kofi Annan confirmed a meeting on Syria would be held on the weekend.
Annan also said he will keep Syria ally Iran involved in efforts to halt the conflict even though it has not been invited to Saturday’s international meeting in Geneva, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Annan will “brief” Iran after Saturday’s ministerial meeting in Geneva and “will also ensure their continued engagement”, Nesirky told reporters.
Annan “has been clear about the need for Iran to be part of the solution and so has the (UN) secretary general”, Nesirky added.
The UN-Arab League peace envoy said the action group on Syria will meet at the ministerial level, despite wrangling between Moscow and Washington over the terms of reference and guest list.
“The objectives ... are to identify steps and measures to secure full implementation of the six-point plan ... including an immediate cessation of violence in all its forms,” Annan said in a statement.
He was referring to his ceasefire plan which was has seen daily violations since it came into effect on April 12.
There was no immediate reaction from Tehran but Iran’s UN ambassador, Mohamed Khazaee, stressed that his country would have a role.
“One fact that nobody can ignore is the influence and constructive role that the Islamic Republic of Iran has and had in the region,” Khazaee told reporters in New York.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that Saudi Arabia was also not on the guest list.
“We thought that Iran could make a useful contribution. The fact that Iran and Saudi Arabia are not going to be in Geneva does not mean that they are going to be out of the picture altogether. Their influence is there anyway, so we have to factor that in and reckon with it.”
Among those due to attend are US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov whose country insists that Iran’s absence from the meeting could complicate chances for its success.
On the ground at least 82 people were killed in fresh violence across Syria, including the seven staff of Al Ikhbariya satellite channel and 40 other civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the past week “was the bloodiest week of the Syrian Revolution”, which erupted in March 2011, adding that 916 people were killed from June 20 through 26.
And UN investigators told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday that sectarian killings are on the rise in Syria and that gross violations of human rights are occurring on a regular basis.
Live footage broadcast by state television showed extensive damage to the studios of Al Ikhbariya television.
“The terrorist groups stormed the offices of Al Ikhbariya, planted explosives in the studios and blew them up along with the equipment,” Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said from the scene.
“They carried out the worst massacre against the media, executing journalists and security staff,” Zohbi said, adding that a number of staff were kidnapped.
Those killed comprised three journalists and four security guards, state media said. Al Ikhbariya remained on the air despite yesterday’s assault.
The US condemned the attack, echoing remarks made by Amnesty International and press watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
“We condemn all acts of violence including those targeting pro-regime elements,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“Even a media organisation engaged in propaganda is still a civilian object, so it and those working for it must never be deliberately targeted,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director Ann Harrison.
Reporters Without Borders said: “News organisations should not be used as targets by the parties to the conflict.”
In other violence yesterday, 31 soldiers were killed in clashes with rebels and attacks on government forces, including 10 who died before dawn in the eastern province of Deir Al Zor, the Observatory said.
Four rebels also died while 15 troops defected and joined the insurgency, said the watchdog, which reported clashes and shelling of civilian areas across Syria.
On Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told his cabinet that Syria was in a “real situation of war” and ordered ministers to crush the anti-regime revolt, according to the official Sana news agency.
More than 15,800 people have been killed in the uprising, of whom 4,681 lost their lives since Annan’s plan was supposed to take effect on April 12, the Observatory said.
Saturday’s talks in Geneva are aimed at shoring up support for Annan’s faltering peace plan.
“I look forward to a productive meeting this weekend, where we can all agree on concrete actions to end the cycle of violence and bring peace and stability to the Syrian people,” Annan said in a statement.
Clinton said of the Geneva meeting there is “great hope that this perhaps can be a turning point in the very tragic circumstances affecting the Syrian people”.
“But we want to make sure any country that participates firmly supports the envoy’s transition plan and his original six-point plan,” she added.
Diplomats said the US and European nations had opposed Iran’s involvement in the meeting, despite insistence from Moscow that the Islamic Republic has a key role to play.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday: “It is better to involve Iran in the settlement (of the Syrian crisis).”