Asef Shawkat was a brother-in-law to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and a top enforcer in his embattled government, a loyalist so committed that he stood by the Assad family even after he was reportedly shot by the president s younger brother.
The Red Cross (ICRC) says fighting in Syria has become so widespread that the conflict is now in effect a civil war. The change in status means combatants will now be officially subject to the Geneva Conventions, leaving them more exposed to war crimes prosecutions. The Red Cross had previously regarded only the areas around Idlib, Homs and Hama as war zones.
WikiLeaks revealed in its new documents that during last June thousands of Iran s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and members of Lebanese Hezbollah were fighting in Syria in support of Assad s regime.
The general leading the suspended United Nations monitoring mission in Syria said on Friday that there had been persistent fighting around the town of Tremseh, where both sides accused the other of massacring villagers a day earlier in what, if confirmed, would be the bloodiest sectarian incident of the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
As the spiral of violence in Syria continues, a question merits serious consideration: Far from being part of a possible solution, isn t President Bashar al-Assad now at the core of the country s problems? Even Russia, which has dragged its feet in support of the despot, no longer seems as certain in its assessment of al-Assad s chances of clinging to power
Opponents of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria met with their international sponsors here on Friday to intensify pressure for his removal, buoyed by word that Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a commander in the elite Republican Guard, close friend of the president and a member of the Damascus aristocracy, had defected and fled the country.
The besieged Syrian city of Homs came under the heaviest bombardment in a month, activists have reported, as the head of the United Nations monitoring mission in the country said the violence in Syria has reached unprecedented levels.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told a Turkish newspaper he wished Syrian forces had not shot down a Turkish jet last month and that he would not allow the tensions between the two countries to turn into open combat. "We learned that it (the plane) belonged to Turkey after shooting it down. I say 100 per cent 'if only we had not shot it down'," the Cumhuriyet newspaper quoted Assad as saying in an interview published on Tuesday
The Syrian government is practising a widespread policy of state-sanctioned torture, according to a report from Human Rights Watch. The organisation says it has interviewed more than 200 former detainees and identified at least 27 detention centres across Syria. Its details horrific torture methods, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests.
International powers have agreed that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the bloodshed there, but left open the question of what part President Bashar al-Assad might play in the process. Peace envoy Kofi Annan said after talks in Geneva on Saturday that the government should include members of Assad's administration and the Syrian opposition to pave the way for free elections.
Areas of "difficulty and difference" remain between Russia and the US ahead of key talks on the crisis in Syria, a US official says. The state department spokesman played down chances of a deal at the talks, to take place on Saturday in Geneva.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan called Syria a threat to Turkey and unveiled new rules of engagement for the military this week. If Syrian troops approach the border, they will now be targeted, writes Cengiz Candar. But the size and scope of this vaguely-defined area leaves the final decision to Turkey.
Syria s opposition on Friday reported the deadliest 24-hour period so far in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad and said rebel fighters had seized two Syrian generals, one of them the highest-ranking officer to fall into insurgent hands.
Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, has said that his country is in a state of war and has ordered his new cabinet to crush the uprising against his government, even as Turkey vowed to retaliate against the shooting down of one of its air force jets.
Buoyed by support from his country's NATO allies, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Syrian forces on Tuesday to stay clear of their troubled border or face a Turkish military response to any perceived threat, following the disputed downing of a Turkish warplane.
Syria's isolation deepened on Monday, hit by a rash of high-ranking military defectors who sought refuge in Turkey, new European Union sanctions and plans for an emergency NATO meeting over its shooting down of a Turkish warplane.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul has said it was not possible to ignore the fact that Syria had shot down one of its fighter jets. "It is not possible to cover over a thing like this, whatever is necessary will be done," Gul was quoted as saying by state news agency Anatolia on Saturday. It was not immediately clear where he was speaking.
Turkey announced Friday that Syrian forces had shot down a Turkish warplane with two crew members over the Mediterranean, a potentially ominous turn for the worse in relations already frayed because of Turkey s support for Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Britain and America are willing to offer the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, safe passage and even clemency as part of a diplomatic push to convene a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva on political transition in Syria. The initiative comes after David Cameron and Barack Obama received encouragement from Russia's President Vladimir Putin in separate bilateral talks at the G20 in Mexico.
A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.
The United Nations said Saturday that it was suspending its observer mission in Syria because of the escalating violence, the most severe blow yet to a wobbly United Nations-negotiated peace plan that the United States, Russia and other world powers had embraced as the best chance to resolve the deadly conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels challenging his rule.
Russia s chief arms exporter said Friday that his company was shipping advanced defensive missile systems to Syria that could be used to shoot down airplanes or sink ships if the United States or other nations try to intervene to halt the country s spiral of violence.
Syria is committing crimes against humanity as part of state policy to exact revenge against communities suspected of supporting rebels, Amnesty International has said in a report. The London-based rights group called for an international response on Wednesday after claiming it had fresh evidence that victims, including children, had been dragged from their homes and shot dead by soldiers, who in some cases then set the remains on fire.
The head of the United Nations' peacekeeping operations has said that the situation in Syria now amounts to a full-scale civil war as witnesses on the ground described fresh shelling on Homs and heavy fighting in other cities. "Yes, I think we can say that," Herve Ladsous, the head of the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations, told reporters in New York on Tuesday, when asked whether he believed Syria was now in a state of civil war.
The Syria conflict fell deeper into crisis Tuesday as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly accused Russia of supplying attack helicopters to the Syrian government.
Syrian government forces have renewed their attack on the city of Homs, one of the focal points of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Video published on the internet purportedly from Homs showed intermittent shelling and black smoke. UN mediator Kofi Annan is concerned civilians have been trapped in Homs and al-Haffa, a town in Latakia province also said to be under attack.
A BBC correspondent has seen evidence of human remains at the village of Qubair in Syria, scene of a massacre reported on Wednesday. Paul Danahar, who was travelling with UN monitors, found buildings gutted and burnt in the deserted tiny village near the western city of Hama. It is unclear what happened to the bodies of dozens of reported victims.
The Syrian conflict escalated to a dangerous new level on Thursday when government troops and their civilian supporters blocked unarmed United Nations monitors from investigating a massacre of farm families, prompting sharp denunciations of Damascus from diplomats who have struggled vainly to find a workable, consensus solution to the crisis.
"I think Iran is part of the problem," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters yesterday after a day of briefings on Syria. "There is no question that it is actively engaged in supporting the government in perpetuating violence on the ground."
The Syrian government has agreed to let aid workers into the country, the UN says, even as the country expels foreign diplomats. It would be the first time humanitarian workers - aside from the International Committee of the Red Cross - have been granted permission to enter Syria
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has denied his government's forces had any role in the Houla massacre. More than 100 people, many of them children, were killed in the attack overnight between 25 and 26 May, most knifed or shot at close range. Mr Assad described the killings as an "ugly crime" that even "monsters" would not carry out.
At least seven people have been killed and more than 20 hurt in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, in clashes linked to unrest across the border in Syria. Supporters and opponents of the uprising against President Assad of Syria clashed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades on Saturday evening. Tensions in the northern port city have mounted since Syria's uprising began.
Moscow and Washington have traded fierce diplomatic blows over Syria with US charges that Russia was pushing its ally into civil war and the Kremlin accusing the White House of being emotional. Thursday's brisk exchanges came as Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, prepared to face a grilling on Friday from the leaders of Germany and France during his first tour abroad since his May 7 inauguration.
When people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, Mr. Obama told a national television audience, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians. It took us 31 days. Yet while the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has brutalized its citizens for more than a year, Mr. Obama now shows no signs of intervening with force, an option his White House sees leading only to 'greater chaos, greater carnage,' as Jay Carney, the press secretary, put it this week. If the president considered Libya a model of humanitarian intervention, Syria increasingly looks like Mr. Obama s Bosnia.
A senior Iranian military commander's reported admission that Iranian forces are operating in Syria to stiffen the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad underlines how bad things are for Syria's divided opposition. This and reports that Russian and North Korean arms are reaching Damascus could propel Assad's leading Arab foes, the monarchies of the Persian Gulf led by Saudi Arabia, to step up clandestine shipment of arms and ammunition to Syrian rebels
UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan has said the country has reached a "tipping point" after more than a year of conflict. Mr Annan made the remarks after talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Mr Annan told reporters the six-point international peace plan for Syria was not being implemented "as it must be". Meanwhile, several Western states announced they were expelling Syrian diplomats following Friday's massacre in the Houla region, in which 108 died.
A Syrian filmmaker, who took a leave of absence from a fine arts degree program at Syracuse University to cover the carnage in his native country, was killed while filming in the war-ravaged city of Homs, the university s chancellor said in a statement on Tuesday.
Several Western nations hardened their protest against Syria on Tuesday, expelling senior diplomats over the massacre of more than 100 people there, many of them children, last weekend. Their coordinated action came as the United Nations special envoy, Kofi Annan, was meeting with President Bashar al-Assad in the capital, Damascus, to shore up an apparently failing cease-fire.
The BBC has spoken to survivors and eyewitnesses of the massacre in the village of Taldou, in the Houla region of Syria, in which at least 108 people died. Some witnesses have chosen to remain anonymous and their testimony, obtained by telephone, cannot be independently verified. Eyewitnesses say the Syrian army and the shabiha, a sectarian civilian militia that supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad, carried out the attack.
The Syrian government has denied responsibility for an attack that killed at least 85 people, including 34 children, saying that it was carried out by "terrorists". Jihad Makdissi, the spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry, also lashed out at foreign leaders for accusing the government of having committed atrocities "without any evidence". He told a press conference that "hundreds of armed men" had attacked Houla, a cluster of villages in Homs province, on Friday and clashed with government forces.
UN observers have counted at least 90 bodies, including 32 children, after a Syrian government attack on a town. UN mission head Maj-Gen Robert Mood told the BBC the killing in Houla was "indiscriminate and unforgivable". UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he would seek a strong global response to the "appalling crime". UN chief Ban Ki-moon said it was a "flagrant violation of international law".
At least two people have been killed and 18 injured in clashes overnight in the Lebanese capital Beirut. The clashes, between Sunni pro- and anti-Syrian groups, followed the shooting dead on Sunday of two anti-Syrian sheikhs. The violence is the first in Beirut since the conflict began in neighbouring Syria in March last year. The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the incident shows how divided the Lebanese are over the Syrian crisis.
Shelling by Syrian forces has killed at least 16 people according to the British-based group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The organisation says three children are among the dead in the town of Souran in the central province of Hama. It cited residents saying: "The army shelled the town and then stormed it," according to Reuters.
A video posted online in the name of an Islamist group, al-Nusra Front, says it carried out two bomb attacks in the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday. The attacks took place near a military intelligence building during the morning rush hour, killing 55 people. Opposition activists have accused the regime of orchestrating the explosions. The al-Nusra Front emerged in January and has said it was behind previous attacks, including one in March on a police HQ and airforce Intelligence.
At least 55 people were killed and some 372 injured by two powerful car bombs that exploded outside a key intelligence compound in Damascus early on Thursday, Syrian state television reported. The blasts peeled open a new, more treacherous front in the struggle for the country.
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has told the Security Council that his peace plan could be the "last chance to avoid civil war" in Syria. He told a closed session that the plan was "not an open-ended commitment" and highlighted continuing violations. The Syrian army is now using fewer heavy arms, he said, but human rights violations appear to be intensifying.
Syrian activists and opposition groups say security forces have stormed student dormitories at a university in the city of Aleppo following anti-government protests there, killing at least four students and wounding several others. Thaer al-Ahmed, a local activist, said on Thursday that security forces and armed pro-government men fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the students at Aleppo University after entering the students' residences late on Wednesday night
More than 34 children allegedly have been killed in Syria since a shaky truce between President Bashar al-Assad's security forces and opposition groups began on April 12, a U.N. envoy said on Tuesday.
This time in Syria, let Annan be Annan - a peace envoy, a harbinger of non-violent transition in Syria - and not an excuse for the US-led military intervention. It is not just the criminal ruling regime in Syria that is trying to abuse the Annan plan hoping to crush the opposition. The US and its allies too are trying to abuse Annan as an excuse to wage a military strike. But Annan's plan can work. He is the only one in a position to give the ruling regime (not just Bashar al-Assad) a way out of this bloody cul de sac. Unconditional surrender should never be the ruling paradigms in these or any other conflict resolution - not because Gaddafi then or Assad now deserves a face-saving strategy, but because Libyan and Syrian people need it for their future.
The former US Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell, has said that the Syrian president, Bashir al-Assad, could be tried as an alleged war criminal over the brutal crackdown on opponents of his rule. Mitchell, who was the US special envoy for Middle East peace until last May, said Assad could be tried for war crimes in the same way as Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia who was this week found to have "aided and abetted" war crimes by a UN-backed tribunal in The Hague.
An explosion in the centre of the Syrian capital Damascus has killed at least 10 people and wounded 20 others, state media say. The reports said a "terrorist suicide bomber" caused the blast near a mosque in the Midan area, but opposition activists blamed the Syrian government. TV showed graphic images of the scene.
Up to 70 people have been killed in an attack on a house in Hama, according to Syrian activists. They said several houses in the Masha at-Tayyar district in southern Hama were destroyed by a big explosion. State media said 16 people died in the blast in a house used as a bomb factory by "armed terrorist groups".
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may have won a battle earlier this year (as the retreat of the Free Syrian Army from the ruined city of Homs testifies), but he is nowhere near winning the war. The uprising is quickly turning into a full-scale insurgency - a foreign-sponsored insurgency, to be more precise, which some analysts term a "neo-mujahideen strategy".
France says the Security Council should consider the use of force in Syria if a UN-backed peace plan fails to stop violence in the country. "We cannot allow the [Damascus] regime to defy us," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said. Violence has continued despite a plan by international envoy Kofi Annan calling on Damascus to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from cities. Mr Juppe said 300 UN monitors should be deployed in Syria within two weeks.
Scores of people have been killed in renewed violence across Syria, activists have said, as international pressure increased on Damascus to honour ceasefire pledges to withdraw its military from cities and towns. Activists on Wednesday said Syrian forces launched a second day of government attacks on the Damascus suburb of Douma, despite recent visits to the town by UN cease-fire monitors. Amateur video released from Douma showed rubble-filled streets with scorched storefronts and burned out vehicles after the reported shelling attacks.
Syria s remaining cash reserves are quickly dwindling as the country s anti-government uprising marks its 13th month, according to intelligence officials and financial analysts who describe a steady hollowing-out of the country s economy in the face of sanctions. The financial hemorrhaging has forced Syrian officials to stop providing education, health care and other essential services in some parts of the country, and has prompted the government to seek more help from Iran to prop up the country s sagging currency, the analysts said.
The US has called on the UN Security Council to adopt an arms embargo and other tough measures against Syria to try to halt 13 months of bloodshed. Addressing the so-called Friends of Syria group in Paris on Thursday, Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, stopped short of calling for outside military intervention, but said it was time to impose more consequential measures on President Bashar al-Assad if his country failed to abide by a peace plan drafted by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Major international powers meeting in Paris have called a UN-backed peace plan the "last hope" to resolve the Syrian crisis, but warned they are ready to consider "other options" if UN-Arab League mediation efforts led by Kofi Annan break down. The meeting on Thursday resolved that the "Friends of Syria" group, which includes France, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, would do everything to ensure the Arab League-UN plan succeeded
Syria and the United Nations have signed a deal on the framework for international observers to monitor the nation's shaky ceasefire between government forces and opposition fighters. The agreement on Thursday came as Arab and Western ministers gathered in Paris to increase pressure on Damascus, and while violence continued across Syria, with activists reporting the deaths of at least nine people.
The UN secretary-general says Syria has failed to comply with its obligation under a peace plan to pull troops and heavy weapons out of urban areas. In a letter to the UN Security Council, Ban Ki-moon called for an observer mission to be expanded to 300 members. An advance team of six observers has already gone to Syria under the plan, negotiated by UN envoy Kofi Annan.
Shooting has broken out during a visit to a Damascus suburb by an advance team of UN observers, activists say. Videos posted online appear to show anti-government protesters ducking as snipers open fire in Arbeen. Crowds are shown surrounding the UN cars. The UN team is overseeing a shaky ceasefire brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan
The Arab League ministerial committee on Syria has backed the six-point plan devised by international envoy Kofi Annan and called on Damascus to stick to it. "We fully support Mr Annan and his six-point plan, but sadly, the killing still goes on," Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, Qatar's prime minister, told reporters after the meeting on Tuesday. "We are fearful that the regime is playing for time. We expressed this to Mr Annan."
Security forces are locked in fierce battles with opposition fighters in one Syrian city and have been shelling another, activists say. Monday's reports came as a handful of UN monitors entrusted with overseeing a ceasefire were due to begin work.
At attempt to defy the weapons embargo on the Syrian regime has been thwarted in the Mediterranean Sea, SPIEGEL has learned. On Friday, a German-owned ship carrying military equipment and munitions from Iran was stopped from docking in a Syrian port
Fresh clashes have erupted in Syria as a vanguard of UN monitors prepares to arrive to oversee the shaky ceasefire. Activists said there was heavy shelling in the city of Homs, while rebel fighters reportedly attacked a police station in Aleppo province. Syrian state media claim that attacks by "terrorists groups" have intensified since Thursday's truce.
Activists say Syrian forces have shelled two central districts in the city of Homs, even as a hard-won UN-backed ceasefire entered its third day. The overnight bombardment of the city's Jurat al-Shayah and al-Qarabis neighbourhoods continued into the morning, wounding several people, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.
After months of intensifying bloodshed, an uncertain cease-fire backed by the United Nations and brokered by the special envoy Kofi Annan went into effect in Syria early on Thursday with mutual accusations of scattered infractions by the antagonists but none of the by-now-familiar reports of shelling by government forces and mayhem in major cities.
An internationally brokered ceasefire in Syria is only being "partially observed", the opposition says, as state television reported that a roadside bomb had killed an army officer. Heavy weapons and government troops remain deployed in cities, the main opposition bloc said on Thursday, hours after the truce deadline at dawn.
Special envoy Kofi Annan said Wednesday in Tehran that Iran could help solve the crisis in Syria, where activists reported fresh violence near the capital Damascus a day before an international cease-fire is supposed to take effect. Iran is one of Syria's strongest allies, and former U.N. chief Annan went there to bolster support for his faltering plan to stop the country's slide toward civil war.
Syria has told Kofi Annan, the special peace envoy of the UN and Arab League, that it will halt all fighting by Thursday morning but reserves the right to respond to any attack by "armed terrorist groups", his spokesman said. In a letter the Syrian Foreign Ministry said Damascus agreed "to cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 6 am (0300 GMT) tomorrow, Thursday," Ahmad Fawzi said. The statement also said that the Syrian government reserves "the right to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups against civilians, government forces or public and private property".
Prospects for a peaceful solution to Syria s conflict on the eve of a cease-fire deadline appeared to diminish further Monday as Turkish officials accused the Syrian military of shooting and killing refugees crossing the border into Turkey, and a senior Foreign Ministry official said the cease-fire plan was void.
Syria's government appears to be pulling back from a United Nations peace plan, saying it wants "written guarantees" that opposition fighters will lay down arms before it implements a troop pullback agreed by President Bashar al-Assad, a demand refused by the main rebel group.
The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has condemned the Syrian government for fresh military assaults despite agreeing to a deal to withdraw from rebel areas of the country. Ban said the ceasefire deadline, which calls for President Bashar al-Assad's forces to pull out of towns and cities by 10 April to allow humanitarian aid to reach Syrians, was "not an excuse for continued killing".
At least 100 people have died on one of the bloodiest days in the Syrian uprising, according to unverified reports, days ahead of a ceasefire. Clandestine monitors inside Syria say more than 30 died in Latamneh, a suburb of the city of Hama, as a result of government shelling
Turkey has warned the UN it may need help if the flow of refugees from Syria continues at its current rate. After speaking to the UN secretary general, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the refugee issue was becoming an "international problem". Some 2,800 Syrians have crossed in 36 hours, with the total now near 24,000.
Syria's opposition includes many disparate currents, among them secular liberals such as Saleh, Islamists, Kurdish nationalists, Web-savvy youths and urban and rural guerrillas. While at odds on many issues, they generally are united on one objective: the need to oust the government of President Bashar Assad.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Syria's opposition will never defeat the country's armed forces even if it is "armed to the teeth". Mr Lavrov warned that there would be "slaughter for many years" if Western and Arab states intervened militarily and supplied weapons to rebel groups
Syria's government has promised that its armed forces would stop shooting and withdraw from population centers by April 10, the special emissary attempting to end the violent year-old uprising in Syria told the United Nations Security Council on Monday.
Violence is continuing in Syria as the UN and Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, briefs the Security Council on the progress of his peace plan. Activists say at least three people have been killed in an army offensive in Idlib province, and there has been fresh fighting in the city of Homs. There has also been an explosion in central Damascus, state media report. On Sunday, Gulf Arab states agreed to pay the salaries and other costs of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). The money, which will be distributed through the opposition Syrian National Council, is the first formal international support for the FSA.
The United Nations says that more than 9000 Syrians have been killed since the Assad regime began its brutal assault against anti-government protesters over a year ago. Many countries in the world have expressed horror at the violence Syrian President Bashar al Assad has released on the Syrian people. But the Syrian regime s staunch friend and ally, Iran, is not one of them. Instead, as the Commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Corps General James Mattis recently told Congress, Iranian authorities have worked diligently to aid and abet Assad in his repression:
Representatives from 70 nations are meeting in Turkey to consider ways of supporting the Syrian opposition and applying further international pressure to end a deadly crackdown on protests. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, opened the meeting of the so-called "Friends of Syria" in Istanbul on Sunday by calling for the international community to speak with one voice.
Syrian insurgents appear to have stepped up a campaign to assassinate senior military officials with a series of attacks that reinforce and exacerbate the hostility between the Syrian government and rebel fighters who argue that armed struggle is their only chance for survival.
All but one of Syria's disparate opposition groups have agreed to unite behind the Syrian National Council. A statement issued after a two-day meeting in Istanbul said the SNC would be the "formal interlocutor and formal representative of the Syrian people". They also expressed scepticism at the government's acceptance of the peace plan presented by UN envoy Kofi Annan.
The Syrian government has agreed to accept the six-point plan by joint United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on ending the violence in Syria, the former UN chief's spokesman has said. "The Syrian government has written to the joint special envoy Kofi Annan, accepting his six-point plan, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council," Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement on Tuesday. "Mr Annan views this as an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfil the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," he added
Despite reports of a breakthrough in international efforts to end Syria's bloodletting, heavy fighting broke out in this border region on Tuesday between Syrian government troops and rebels who have taken refuge in the area, according to activists and Lebanese military officers.
Government forces bombed towns and have clashed with opposition fighters in several areas of Syria, as thousands of people took part in "Damascus, Here We Come" demonstrations, monitors and activists said. A Britain-based activist organisation said the crowds in all the main centres of anti-regime revolt across the country on Friday numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
The European Union has sought to punish Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, by targeting his closest female relatives, with sanctions barring his wife, mother, sister and sister-in-law from travelling in the EU and freezing bank accounts and other assets. However, it remained unclear how the symbolic move aimed at curbing the luxury lifestyle of a dynasty engaged in a bloodbath in Syria would affect Asma al-Assad, the president's wife and until recently an international style icon.
Hopes that diplomacy will force Syrian President Bashar Assad to back down seem misguided, given that his regime resembles a mafia cartel bent on defending its turf by any means. There is no turning back for Assad's clan or the rebels -- both sides know that would spell their doom.
The Syrian province of al-Raqqa has seen rare anti-government protests on Friday that took by surprise both the government and the opposition. The northern province was once a government stronghold and anti-government protests since the uprising began last year were modest. Last November, President Bashar al-Assad broke with tradition to perform Muslim Eid Al Adha prayers in Raqqa, rather than in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.