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Syrian scene moving to next phase

Atul Aneja
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Biting times:A Syrian refugee girl eats plain bread in the Lebanese town of el-Fakha in the eastern Bekaa Valley, on Thursday.— PHOTO: AFP
Biting times:A Syrian refugee girl eats plain bread in the Lebanese town of el-Fakha in the eastern Bekaa Valley, on Thursday.— PHOTO: AFP

The fate of the Syrian regime led by President Bashar Al Assad continues to hang in a balance ahead of another possible vote next week in the Security Council following the upcoming visit to Damascus by Kofi Annan, the U.N. and Arab League special envoy on Syria.

As behind the scenes activity picks up, the Syrian President would be hoping that Russia and China do not dilute their support for him, analysts say. The two countries had earlier vetoed a western-backed Arab resolution that would have toppled Mr. Assad from the presidency.

The Vice-President and a national unity government would have then filled the breach.

So far there are no indications that the Chinese are budging fundamentally from their previous stand. After a visit to Damascus by China's former Ambassador to Syria, Li Huaxin, Beijing has signalled that it might have managed to persuade the Assad government to allow humanitarian supplies into Syria, under the U.N. flag, with the national sovereignty fully respected. In a media briefing on Mr. Li's visit, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said: “The Syrian government spoke positively of China's six-point proposal. The Syrian government side states it would like to cooperate with the U.N. agencies in the humanitarian field, on the basis of respecting Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Coinciding with Mr. Li's visit, China had listed a six-point proposal to defuse the crisis, where it has been emphatic in saying the “international community should earnestly respect the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria and the right of the Syrian people to independently choose their political system and development path”.

Mr. Li “urged the Syrian government to stop the violence immediately, actively cooperate with the U.N. and I.C.R.C. to ease the humanitarian situation, in particular in Homs,” the spokesman said.

Shedding some of the opacity for which it had been earlier criticised, the Assad government on Wednesday allowed Valerie Amos, U.N. chief for humanitarian affairs, to visit the battle-torn Baba Amr district in Homs, the epicentre of the anti-Assad revolt, which, Syrian forces had overrun last week.

“The visit was for assessing the situation there and we didn't distribute aid in Baba Amr today,” said Khalid Ariksusi, head of the operation section in the Red Crescent. The Syrians were now preparing to receive Mr. Annan who would be in Damascus on Friday, after spending the previous day in Cairo with representatives of the Arab League.

With the presidential elections out of the way, Russia's voice against foreign intervention in Syria appears to have grown louder. Russia's envoy to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin has now accused pro-west Libya of supporting a “special training centre for Syrian revolutionaries”. He added: “We think that al-Qaeda is in Syria and therefore there the question arises: Is transporting the revolution not turning into the transporting of terrorism?”

As the conflict begins to enter its next phase, the United States has expressed caution about using military force against Syria. At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin E. Dempsey underlined some of the perils of attacking Syria. He said Syria has “approximately five times more sophisticated air defences than existed in Libya covering one-fifth of the terrain” and “about ten times more than we experienced in Serbia”.

He also pointed out that Syria possesses stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. At the same venue, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said instead of plunging into war, Washington was considering supplying non-lethal equipment, such as radio equipment, to fight the Assad regime.

Inside Syria, Deputy Oil Minister Abdo Hussameldin has defected to the opposition — the highest ranking officials to do so, since the anti-Assad uprising began a year ago.

In Homs, fresh evidence of foreign intervention has apparently surfaced, with the Syrian army capturing 13 French officers, the Lebanese newspaper Daily Star is reporting.

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