Violence tears Syria despite peace moves
DAMASCUS - President Bashar al-Assad's regime pressed its deadly bid to crush dissent Monday, reportedly targeting rebels near Turkey as it brushed off an Istanbul meeting of the "Friends of Syria" as a failure.
Violence across the Middle East country killed at least 18 people Monday, as peacebroker Kofi Annan was set to brief the UN Security Council after Western and Arab nations sought a deadline for Damascus to implement his peace plan.
But Russia rejected the idea, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying "ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help matters," as Moscow sent a navy destroyer to the Syrian port of Tartus.
The rebel Free Syrian Army accused the global community of failing to protect Syria's people, saying it was ignoring the Assad regime's "massacres" by refusing to arm the insurgents to fight the bloody clampdown.
"The international community, by delaying to put pressure on the regime and preventing the arming of the rebels, assumes full responsibility for the massacres," said Colonel Kassem Saadeddine, spokesman for the FSA.
In Istanbul on Sunday, the so-called Friends of Syria group -- Arab League members and nations including the United States, France and Germany -- steered clear of backing opposition appeals for arms.
But the opposition Syrian National Council, which is funded by some Gulf Arab states, said it would pay the salaries of rebel fighters seeking to topple Assad.
The conference urged UN-Arab League envoy Annan "to determine a timeline for next steps, including a return to the UN Security Council, if the killing continues."
"The regime will be judged by its deeds rather than its promises. The window of opportunity for the regime to implement its commitments to joint special envoy Annan is not open-ended," it added.
Assad had on Tuesday said he accepted Annan's six-point plan.
The plan calls for an end to violence, a humanitarian ceasefire and access to all restive areas, as well as an inclusive Syrian-led political process, the right to demonstrate, and the release of people detained arbitrarily.
Official Syrian media belittled the conference, however, with one newspaper saying the gathering of what it called the "Enemies of Syria" was a failure for those seeking to oust Assad.
"Despite all the hype, the conference of the 'Enemies of Syria' produced only meagre results... showing it was unable to shake Syrians' rejection of foreign intervention," said Al-Baath, mouthpiece of Assad's ruling party by the same name.
Under the headline "Another Failure," it said "the participants will eventually recognise that the resistance of the Syrians, the (government's pledged) reforms and the double veto by Russia and China... have allowed Syria to overcome the crisis and win the battle."
Russia, a Soviet era ally of the Assad regime, said only the UN Security Council, where it wields veto power, could put any time restrictions on Syria's compliance with the Annan plan.
"The demands should be put to all sides of the barricades," Lavrov said. "We intend to be friends with both sides in Syria," Lavrov said in reference to Russia's support for Assad.
Meanwhile, reports said a Russian navy guided-missile destroyer would dock at the Syrian port of Tartus in the coming days after setting out on a planned mission to the region.
The Smetlivy would take on supplies for a "purely technical" call at the Russian-leased port before planned exercises near Syria's Mediterranean coast, officials were cited as saying.
On Monday, security forces pressed their crackdown on dissent, with 10 civilians, five rebel fighters and three soldiers among those killed in violence across Syria, monitors and activists said.
Troops set ablaze houses in Deir Subol, Farkia and Hass, villages in Idlib province on Syria's northwestern border with Turkey, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A civilian was killed in an explosion in the northern city of Aleppo, added the monitoring group.
In Daraa, cradle of the uprising, forces carried out arrest raids in the town of Dael, where two houses were burnt and a third collapsed, said the Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees activist group.
In the same region, army deserters fired rocket-propelled grenades at checkpoints at Inkhel, killing two soldiers, while gunfire was heard in the Tafas village.
Heavy machinegun fire was heard in the Hamidiyeh and Souk al-Hashish neighbourhoods of Homs city, one of the main targets of the regime's year-long crackdown, said the LCC.
Two civilians were killed in Homs and three elsewhere in Homs province and in Qusayr.
In Damascus, an explosion went off near Hotel Kinda and a police station in the busy central neighbourhood of Marja, injuring four people, state television and witnesses said.
Bombings have hit Syria's major cities in recent months, provoking mounting concern that Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the uprising.
According to UN estimates, more than 9,000 people have died in the crackdown on the uprising that began in March last year, inspired by Arab Spring protests that toppled long-time dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.