International envoy Kofi Annan and major world powers are launching a final drive to find a diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis as a rights group reported nearly 120 deaths across the country on Thursday.
Reports are circulating that Annan is preparing sanctions and emergency plans for United Nations observers in the conflict-stricken state, in a new plan which the envoy is expected to announce at a meeting in Geneva on June 30, according to U.N. diplomats.
New action from the international community has been widely anticipated as the crisis mounts in the country. Violence in Syria killed 119 people on Thursday, most of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that the death toll included 66 civilians and 43 regime troops.
“This has been one of the bloodiest days in Syria since the anti-regime revolt broke out in March last year,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP news agency.
In Homs, dawn broke to heavy shelling but the barrages eased up during the day, resident Waleed Faris said.
“Now I can hear one or two mortars fall every half an hour. It is quiet today compared to the past few days,” he said.
Two people were killed in his neighborhood of Khalidiya on Thursday, he said.
In other violence on Thursday, activists said 18 people were killed when government forces rained shells on the village of Enkhel in the southern Deraa province, birthplace of the revolt.
Video posted on the Internet showed nine bodies wrapped in blankets and surrounded by weeping men and women.
Syrian state news agency SANA said 21 law enforcement members and civilians were buried on Thursday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke with Annan on Wednesday, said the envoy is working on a “political transition roadmap” for Syria, where activist say 15 months of conflict have left more than 15,000 people dead.
“He's going to be making another proposal to the Russians, the Turks and other interested groups to try to get them to agree on this roadmap,” Clinton told reporters.
Annan wants to “increase the pressure” on Assad's government and the opposition, she added.
The envoy's current six-point peace plan, which includes the return of troops and weaponry to barracks as a prelude to talks, was agreed by Assad but has never been carried out.
Annan wants to get Russia, President Bashar al-Assad's last major ally, and the United States, which has called for the Syrian leader to step down, and other key nations behind an effort to bring Assad into talks, diplomats and officials said.
International efforts to halt the violence are deadlocked because Russia and China, which hold veto power in the U.N. Security Council, have blocked tougher measures against Assad, their strategic regional ally.
They say the solution must come through political dialogue, an approach that most of the Syrian opposition rejects. An uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule in Syria that erupted 15 months ago has turned into an armed conflict between his security forces and armed rebels.
The United States, Britain and France are now working on a resolution that would call for sanctions against Assad if he does not carry out the six-point plan.
Russia has vowed to oppose any Libya-style military intervention in Syria. But talks between President Vladimir Putin and western leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Mexico this week left western nations believing that sanctions could be possible.
The United Nations is meanwhile reviewing the future of the observer mission in Syria, whose mandate ends on July 20.
According to diplomats at Tuesday's Security Council meeting, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous outlined options including:
-- Expanding the mission
-- Arming the nearly 300 unarmed observers or sending force protection
-- Shrinking the mission, with fewer military observers or just keeping civilian staff
-- Closing the mission
Meanwhile, the head of the Arab League said on Thursday he expected a meeting of the five big powers in Geneva later this month to produce “practical mechanisms,” not words, to resolve the conflict in Syria as
Describing the situation in Syria as a tragedy, Nabil al-Arabi said he was hopeful that the June 30 conference would result in action to deal with the crisis.
“It will include the big five states which have never met together on this issue before. This is very important, because this is the key,” al-Arabi said speaking to reporters at the League's headquarters in Cairo.
“The second point is that the preparations that are under way now are producing practical mechanisms,” he said. He declined to give any further details, according to Reuters news agency.