U.N. aid chief heads to Syria as Obama says military intervention would be ‘mistake’

U.S. President Barack Obama described what was happening in Syria was heartbreaking and outrageous. (Reuters)

The U.N.’s humanitarian chief heads for Syria Wednesday to urge the regime to let aid into devastated protest cities, with U.S. President Barack Obama insisting military intervention would be a “mistake.”

The five major U.N. powers discussed on Tuesday new efforts to press for a halt to the violence in Syria, which Obama called “heartbreaking,” as regime forces pounded rebel towns and the death toll rose.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan are due to visit Syria this week to see firsthand the effects of a conflict that the United Nations says has killed more than 7,500 civilians.

Amos is due to arrive in Damascus Wednesday for a two-day stay, in a bid to persuade Assad’s government to allow humanitarian aid into protest cities which have been relentlessly bombarded by regime forces, according to AFP.

Annan is to go to Damascus on Saturday to press the humanitarian case and start efforts to persuade Assad to halt the deadly offensive.

Obama said what was happening in Syria was “heartbreaking and outrageous,” and witness accounts of the devastation after government troops bombarded the rebel stronghold of Baba Amro into submission have given attempts to reach a diplomatic solution renewed urgency, according to Reuters.

The White House said Obama was committed to diplomatic efforts to end the violence, saying Washington wanted to isolate Assad, cut off his sources of revenue and encourage unity among his opponents.

“Ultimately this dictator will fall,” Obama said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, adding that it was not a question of if, but when Assad would be forced out.

But he opposed a call by U.S. Senator John McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, for the United States to lead an international effort to protect population centers in Syria with air strikes on Assad's forces.

“For us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake,” he said.

Obama’s comments came as world powers met behind closed doors at the United Nations late Tuesday to discuss a U.S.-drafted resolution urging an end to the crackdown on the revolt against Assad and unhindered humanitarian access.

But despite the chorus of outrage, Western leaders have ruled out a Libya-style military intervention in Syria, fearing it could trigger wider conflict in the Middle East.

Russia and China have vetoed two previous council resolutions, saying they were unbalanced and only demanded that the government stop attacks, not the opposition. Moscow, which has taken the lead, accused Western powers of fueling the conflict by backing the rebels.

The new draft resolution, proposed by the United States and obtained by Al Arabiya, tries to take a more balanced approach in an effort to get Russia and China on board, but it was unclear if the new language would be sufficient to satisfy them.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice appeared downbeat as she left the meeting, telling reporters: “I don’t think you should expect anything specific,” according to The Associated Press.

In a statement later, Rice said the discussions focused on “whether there is any possibility of reaching agreement around a potential text that would demand an end to the violence in Syria and demand immediate humanitarian access.”

After Tuesday’s closed discussion of the U.S. draft, Russia’s U.N. ambassador had no comment. China’'s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong, asked about a new resolution, said “we are still working on that.”

Morocco's U.N. envoy Mohammed Loulichki called the atmosphere “promising,” but added that no date has been set for another meeting on the draft.

The U.S. draft demands that the Syrian government comply with the Arab League plan of action adopted Nov. 2 and immediately cease all violence, release all detainees, and return all Syrian military and armed forces to their original barracks.

It also calls on “the armed elements of the Syrian opposition to refrain from all violence.”

The draft deplores “the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” and demands unhindered access for humanitarian organizations, the Arab League, and Arab and international media.

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