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April 12, 2012

Annan 'gravely concerned' about Syria

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. (UPI/Maryam Rahmanian)

YAYLADAGI, Turkey (UPI) -- U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, while "gravely concerned" after Syria failed to pull back its troops, vowed to pursue a cease-fire within 24 hours.

"We still have time between now and 12 April to stop the violence," Annan said after visiting Syrian refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border with Syria -- an experience he called "heart-wrenching."

Annan's six-point plan, which Syria insisted it would comply with, called for Syria to withdraw troops and weapons from populated areas by 6 a.m. local time Tuesday and for all hostilities against Syrian citizens to end by 6 a.m. Thursday.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem said Tuesday Assad forces had withdrawn from part of the besieged western-central city of Homs.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said most of the 101 people killed in fighting Tuesday were in Homs.

Annan refused to say his diplomacy was dead, and again urged government and opposition forces to lay down their arms by Thursday's deadline.

"It's a plan we're all fighting to implement. ... It's a plan the Syrians have endorsed and from the comments made by the opposition, they're also prepared to go along with it if the government meets its commitments to pull the troops out," he told reporters.

"If you want to take it off the table, what would you replace it with?" he asked.

The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad said it would withdraw its troops and abide by a cease-fire only if the opposition fighters, who it calls terrorists, put down their weapons and if Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey guarantee they will "stop funding and arming terrorist groups."

Annan said Tuesday these requirements were not part of his original agreement with the Syrian regime.

Syrian ally Russia said Tuesday the Assad government "could have been more decisive" in implementing the plan.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also called on opposition forces to halt violence.

The opposition, including the rebel Free Syrian Army, said it would comply with the truce if the regime does.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, accused Syria of a sovereign incursion after Syrian forces fired across the border near a refugee camp Monday, killing two Syrian refugees and wounding at least 23 other people, including a Turkish police officer and another Turkish citizen.

He said Turkey was considering a response, including measures "we do not want to think about."

Diplomats said Ankara would not act unilaterally, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn., also visited Syrian refugee camps Tuesday.

"The only way to reverse this situation is to help the Syrian opposition change the military balance of power on the ground," CNN quoted McCain as saying.

This means doing more than just providing "non-lethal assistance," McCain said.

"It means helping them establish safe havens to better protect themselves and it means regional and international military efforts to defend these safe havens," he said. "Will the world continue to stand by while Assad kills thousands and thousands of people?"

Annan said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon read to the 15-nation Security Council Tuesday, "We enter a critical moment in the implementation of the six-point plan, and I am gravely concerned at the course of events."

"The Syrian leadership should now seize the opportunity to make a fundamental change of course" to bring about a truce by Thursday, his letter said.

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