International mediator Kofi Annan said yesterday an “unacceptable” escalation in violence in Syria violated guarantees made to him and called on Damascus to keep its promises to end the bloodshed.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict in his Easter Sunday message yesterday threw his weight behind a UN plan to end bloodshed in Syria, calling for “an immediate commitment” to peace efforts there.
The 84-year-old pope gave a shorter-than-usual blessing from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica after an outdoor Easter Mass attended by more than 100,000 people in St Peter’s Square.
“May the risen Christ grant hope to the Middle East and enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights,” he said.
“Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community,” he said.
Annan, the special envoy for the UN and Arab League, urged both Syrian forces and opposition fighters to halt all forms of violence by 6am Damascus time on Thursday, in line with his six-point peace plan agreed on March 27.
“I am shocked by recent reports of a surge in violence and atrocities in several towns and villages in Syria, resulting in alarming levels of casualties, refugees and displaced persons, in violation of assurances given to me,” Annan said in a statement.
Syrian forces pressed on with their military operations yesterday in rebel strongholds, mainly in Idlib Province, as seven people were killed in violence, a monitoring group reported.
In Damascus Province, five rebels were killed by regime forces in the village of Beit Jen near Mount Hermon as helicopters flew overhead amid sounds of explosions, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted witnesses as saying.
In the Idlib region, the military launched a major operation east of Jisr al-Shughur with dozens of military vehicles backed by helicopters, it said. A civilian was killed in the city by a sniper, the Observatory said.
On Saturday, nearly 130 people were killed, among them 86 civilians, the Observatory said.