The Syrian army went on a fresh offensive against rebels yesterday as Russia and China, which have stalled Western-led UN moves against Damascus, began talks expected to focus on the Syria crisis.
On the diplomatic front, China was hosting summit talks with Russia, which like Beijing has blocked UN Security Council condemnation of the Syrian regime for its bloody crackdown on dissent that has cost thousands of lives.
Russian President Vladimir Putin began talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) yesterday ahead of a meeting with Hu’s likely successor, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), today.
Putin and Hu yesterday urged the international community to support UN envoy Kofi Annan’s plan on Syria, state television reported.
“On the Syrian issue, the two heads of state said the international community should continue to support the joint Arab League/UN Special Envoy Annan’s mediation efforts and the UN monitoring mission, to promote a political solution to the problem in Syria,” state television said.
Russia and China — both permanent members of the UN Security Council — have stymied efforts by Western powers to condemn or call for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces, the UN says, have killed more than 9,000 people during 15 months of bloodshed.
After three days of shelling, Syrian troops and pro-regime militiamen backed by tanks and armored cars seized control of Kfar Zita in Hama Province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that rebel fighters had withdrawn.
Militiamen looted homes and shops after town residents fled, the non-governmental organization said.
It said four civilians were killed overnight in a “huge military operation” in the Kfar Oweid area of Idlib, a province bordering Turkey that is a stronghold of rebel forces.
The foes also clashed in several other areas of the province in northwest Syria, the Britain-based observatory said.
The monitoring group said districts of the flashpoint city of Homs, also north of Damascus, came under artillery fire “as part of a campaign by regular forces to destroy them completely.”
In Latakia on the Mediterranean, two rebel fighters were killed in an attack by regime troops on the town of al-Hafa, the group said, while gunmen assassinated an army colonel in front of his home in the northeastern city of Deir Ezzor.
The latest clashes came after the military suffered major losses over the weekend to the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), which announced it was resuming “defensive operations” because of the failure of a UN-backed April 12 ceasefire.
According to the observatory, at least 92 soldiers have been killed since Sunday.
China’s UN envoy said on Monday that efforts to end the 15 months of bloodshed in Syria were at a “crossroads,” and that government and opposition forces must halt violence.
China’s ambassador to the UN Li Baodong (李保東) said last month’s Houla massacre of more than 100 people, including many children, had dealt a huge blow to Annan’s mediation mission, as Beijing took over the UN Security Council this month.