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Kofi Annan with Hillary Clinton at the Action Group on Syria meeting in the UN HQ in Geneva today AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari

Annan warns 'history will judge' the world's failure on Syria

The former UN chief has convened a meeting of foreign ministers to try and broker a deal on Syria – but it’s looking unlikely.

INTERNATIONAL ENVOY KOFI Annan has warned divided world powers Saturday that history “will judge us all harshly” if no deal was struck to end the bloodshed in Syria and chart a transition.

As the West pointed to persistent opposition from Beijing and Moscow to a transition deal, Annan told a meeting in Geneva that the world would be partly responsible for further deaths if it failed to agree on a roadmap.

“It is the Syrian people who will be the greatest victims, and their deaths will be the consequence of not only the acts of killers on the ground but also your inability to bridge the divisions between you,” he said.

“History is a sombre judge – and it will judge us all harshly if we prove incapable of taking the right path today,” he said.

Annan had convened the meeting of foreign ministers from the five permanent Security Council states, the United States, Russia, Britain, China and France, as well as regional powers Qatar, Turkey, Kuwait and Iraq, while conspicuously leaving out Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A key sticking point in the talks was Annan’s proposal on how a power transition could be organised in Syria, where violence has claimed 15,800 lives since March last year.

Moscow and Beijing were against Annan’s proposal envisaging a handover to an interim team that excludes those “whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardise stability and reconciliation”.

The wording appears to imply that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would have to relinquish his grip on power for the idea to succeed, a proposal backed by the West.

Russia insists that Assad’s fate “must be decided within the framework of a Syrian dialogue by the Syrian people themselves.”

Kofi Annan speaking with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon (left) and Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov before the start of the meeting today. (Photo: AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

British Foreign Secretary William Hague headed into the meeting, saying it “remains very difficult” to bridge the gap and that “I don’t know if this will be possible.”

A senior US official also said today’s bid to find a political end to the war in Syria “remain challenging” and a deal may prove elusive.

“Discussions remain challenging, we are continuing to work on this today but we need a plan that is strong and credible, so we may get there, we may not,” the official said.

Failed peace process

The meeting is a bid to salvage Annan’s peace process that has been largely ignored by both the ruling regime and opposition since it came into force on 12 April.

Fighting has only intensified in recent weeks and rights monitors say violence killed 11 people across Syria on Saturday, and trapped hundreds more in Douma in Damascus province north of the capital.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was however upbeat ahead of the meeting, saying he “detected a shift” in Washington’s approach to ending the bloodshed that no longer involved a specific demand for Assad to leave.

“There were no ultimatums. Not a word was said about the document now being discussed in Geneva being completely untouchable,” Lavrov told reporters in reference to wording that suggest no future role for Assad.

“I can confidently say that we have a very good chance tomorrow in Geneva to find a common denominator and mark a path forward,” Lavrov added.

A conflicting message came from Lavrov’s deputy, Gennady Gatilov, who tweeted early Saturday that experts in Geneva had thus far failed to agree to the wording of a final document on Syria because “the Western partners want to determine the political process themselves.”

In an editorial published Saturday in Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Annan said that as the “conflict is between Syrians, it is up to the Syrians to resolve it.

“But it would be naive to think that they can, on their own, end the violence now and engage in a meaningful political process,” said the former UN chief, who had conspicuously left Iran and Saudi Arabia off the Geneva guest list.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights warned of a “catastrophic humanitarian situation” in besieged Douma, which “has been subjected to a fierce military campaign since June 21.”

Violence has killed “scores and wounded hundreds” there since regime forces escalated attacks on the outlying suburb of Damascus, the group said.

“More than 100 families remain in the town, unable to flee and forced to take refuge in shelters,” it said.

An explosion also rocked the Qaboon district of Damascus on Saturday and another blast hit the country’s second city Aleppo in the north. A further blast hit an oil pipeline in a rebel-held area of the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

The latest violence came a day after 73 people were killed nationwide, among them 23 regime troops.

– © AFP, 2012

Syrian violence has worsened since ceasefire, says UN >

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