UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said his peace plan could be the last chance to avoid civil war in Syria, where a truce has failed to end 14 months of bloodshed that monitors say has killed nearly 12,000 people.
Annan told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that the priority in Syria was “to stop the killing” and expressed concern that torture, mass arrests and other human rights violations were intensifying.
Regime forces “continue to press against the population,” despite a putative truce that started on April 12, but attacks are more discreet because of the presence of UN military observers, diplomats quoted him as saying.
“The biggest priority, first of all we need to stop the killing,” Annan told reporters in Geneva, adding that his six-point peace plan is “the only remaining chance to stabilize the country.”
Annan briefed the council on his efforts to get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to implement the plan, which he said was possibly “the last chance to avoid civil war.”
He added, however, that the peace bid was not an “open-ended” opportunity for al-Assad, the diplomats who attended the briefing said.
Annan plans to return to Damascus in the coming weeks, his spokesman said, though this depended on events on the ground there. It would be his second visit since his mission began earlier this year.
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Washington’s goal was still the removal of al-Assad.
“The United States remains focused on increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and on Assad himself to step down,” Rice said.
“The situation in Syria remains dire, especially for the millions who continue to endure daily attacks and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance,” she told reporters after Annan’s briefing.
Top US officials are to meet delegates from the Syrian Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Washington this week to try to build a “more cohesive opposition” to al-Assad, a US State Department spokesman said.
Annan updated the UN body on the status of his six-point plan, which includes a UN military observer mission, a day after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned world powers were racing against time to prevent all-out civil war in Syria.
The current 60 or so observers on the ground “have had a calming effect” and the deployment by the end of the month of a 300-strong team would see a “much greater impact,” Annan said.
While there had been a decrease in military activities, there had been “serious violations” of the agreed ceasefire, which included attacks on government troops and facilities, he added.
“The need for human rights abuses to come to an end cannot be underestimated,” he said.
“This is what the plan is all about,” he said.
UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told the Security Council that arms were being smuggled in both directions between Lebanon and Syria.
“What we see across the region is a dance of death at the brink of the abyss of war,” he told -reporters later.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said almost 12,000 people, most of them civilians, had died since the revolt broke out in March last year.
Of that number, about 800 had died since the truce was supposed to have taken effect, said the UK-based watchdog, and at least six civilians were killed on Tuesday.
The unrest has persisted despite the presence of UN observers monitoring the truce and parliamentary elections on Monday.