U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of tougher measures if he squanders his “last chance” by failing to implement the Kofi Annan peace plan.
“It is obviously quite concerning” that, while U.N. observers are starting to deploy in Syria, the “guns of the Assad regime are once again firing in Homs, Idlib and elsewhere”, Clinton told reporters in Brussels.
On Wednesday, at least 32 people were killed by army gunfire across Syria today, mostly in Idlib and Homs, Local Coordinating Committees said.
Three civilians were killed as regime forces launched a fresh bombardment of a rebel neighbourhood of the flashpoint central city of Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Four others, including a nine-year-old, were killed elsewhere, the Britain-based watchdog added.
Seven government troops were also killed in a roadside bomb on the outskirts of the northwestern town of Idlib, where fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army have been active.
“We are at a crucial turning point,” the chief U.S. diplomat said on the eve of a high-level meeting in Paris designed to consider further pressure on Assad.
U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan has proposed a peace plan calling for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from Syrian population centers, humanitarian assistance, the release of prisoners and free movement and access for journalists.
Either the international community succeeds in “pushing forward” Annan’s six-point plan or “we see Assad squandering his last chance before additional measures have to be considered,” Clinton said.
She talked of increased sanctions but declined to answer a question on whether it was fine for other countries to arm the rebels − a stand taken by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Speaking after talks with NATO foreign and defense ministers in Brussels, Clinton simply said the United States “is not providing lethal arms” to the opposition and is instead sending communications equipment and other non-lethal aid to them.
France said that 14 foreign ministers, including Clinton, would attend a meeting on Syria in Paris on Thursday to send a “strong” message to Assad’s regime to implement the Annan plan.
Clinton said she looked forward to her consultations in Paris.
U.N. observers ‘lack ability to monitor Syria’
U.N. observers in Syria are not being given the necessary freedom to monitor a halt to hostilities, the U.S. ambassador said Wednesday, adding that the Security Council will examine its next move in the crisis next week.
The council will await reports from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, expected Wednesday, and from U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan before discussing whether to send a full observer mission to Syria, ambassador Susan Rice told reporters.
An advanced party of 30 unarmed military observers started arriving in Damascus Sunday, but has not yet started monitoring a cessation of hostilities that officially started last week.
The U.S. ambassador again raised doubts over the Security Council agreeing to send the full 250 member mission to the country where the U.N. says more than 9,000 people have died in the last 13 months.
“We have a very small number of observers now on the ground and it seems that small number is having difficulty with the freedom that we all expected and that is required,” Rice said.
The Security Council had clearly insisted “that there needs to be a sustained cessation of violence, there has to be the ability for this advanced contingent to be able to operate and move freely and unimpeded,” the envoy added.
“I think there is reason on both counts to be concerned that thus far those conditions are not in place.”
The Security Council passed a resolution on Saturday allowing the advanced party of up to 30 observers, who are still negotiating a protocol with President Bashar al-Assad’s government to allow them to carry out their work across the country. The government said Wednesday that the deal was nearly complete.
Under the resolution, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was to send a report to the Security Council later Wednesday on the work of the observers up to now.
Annan had been expected to brief the Security Council this week, but his talks with the 15-member council are now only expected next week, Rice said.
“And in the light of these discussions and assessments the council I’m sure will work towards its consideration of the recommendations” made by Ban and Annan, Rice said.
The U.S. envoy said a U.N. mission in Syria “needs to be able to operate with the independence, the freedom of movement, the freedom of communications − all of the traditional freedoms that are necessary for an effective U.N. presence anywhere in the world.
“We can’t accept a set of circumstances in Syria that we wouldn’t accept anywhere else,” she said.