Bashar al-Assad Proposes Gradual Steps to End Syria Violence
BAGHDAD - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has suggested ending Syria's conflict on a step-by-step basis, starting with districts that have seen the worst violence, international mediator Kofi Annan told a press conference in Tehran on Tuesday.
Annan met Assad in Damascus on Monday at the start of a round of shuttle diplomacy to try to revive his moribund plan for ending Syria's 16-month-old crisis.
He said Assad had suggested "building an approach from the ground up in some of the districts where we have extreme violence - to try and contain the violence in those districts and, step by step, build up and end the violence across the country".
Annan, who represents the United Nations and the Arab League, said he needed to discuss the proposal with the Syrian opposition and could not give further details.
It was not clear how or where he planned to do this. After talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Annan flew to Baghdad.
The French Foreign Ministry said he would present the conclusions of his tour to the Security Council in New York on Wednesday.
Meanwhile Syria's major ally Russia proposed what sounded like an alternative to the Western-backed, anti-Assad "Friends of Syria" forum, with an offer to visiting Syrian opposition groups to host regular meetings of Annan's "action group" of countries, which is more balanced between pro- and anti-Assad influences.
"We would welcome the organization of a regular session of an 'action group' in Moscow ... In any case we see the relevance in carrying out such an event," Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying.
The Syrian National Council - the main opposition umbrella group in exile - is due to hold talks on Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Its delegation of 10 members is led by the group's head, Abdelbasset Sida.
BIG POWER DIFFERENCES
Major powers agreed at a meeting with Annan on June 30 that a transitional government should be set up in Syria, but remain at odds over what part Assad might play in the process.
Russia says the plan cannot pre-suppose that Assad will step down, but Western powers say he must go, and the Syrian opposition say that is their basic condition.
At least 17,129 people have been killed in Syria's 16-month-old revolt, according to the activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It said 11,897 civilians or armed insurgents had been killed by Assad's forces, but that it could not determine how many fell into each category. It also estimated that 884 defectors had been killed.
The Observatory put the death toll among Syrian security forces loyal to Assad at 4,348.
Syria has not given a death toll for security forces for several months, but Assad said last week that most of the victims of the uprising were supporters of his government.
The Observatory said around 100 people were killed on Monday, most of them rebel fighters. In the northerly Aleppo and Idlib provinces, which border Turkey, several towns were shelled.
In Latakia province, further west but also close to the Turkish border, Syrian forces fired on Jabal al-Akrad in an attempt to regain control from rebels infiltrating from Turkey.
In Deir al-Zor, on the road to Iraq, a volunteer medic was killed and at least four soldiers died in fighting.
Clashes were also reported overnight in Deraa, along the border with Jordan, and gunfire and explosions rocked the cities of Homs and Hama and the central town of Rastan.
The opposition Syrian National Council said it was time for the United Nations to declare a humanitarian emergency in Syria, where the U.N. says one and a half million out of a population of 22 million have been affected by the crisis, and 300,000 displaced.
Three people were killed when Syrian mortars hit villages in north Lebanon. Locals said they were under fire for five hours overnight, following sporadic shelling in the area for days.
It was the second fatal attack in Lebanon in three days. Three people were killed on Lebanese territory by mortar fire from Syria at the weekend.
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