UN Envoy Kofi Annan with the Grand Mufti of Syria. Photocredit: FreedomHouse2 http://www.flickr.com/photos/syriafreedom2/6979588289/sizes/z/in/photostream/
Is there hope for Syria? Kofi Annan, the United Nations’ envoy, claims to have received support from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad for his six-point plan for a ceasefire, reported The Daily Mail. Annan also says that China and Russia, two key allies of Syria, are on board. US Secretary of Sate Hillary Clinton has called for Assad to implement the plan immediately; British Foreign Secretary William Hague said “’We will continue to judge the Syrian regime by its practical actions, not by its often empty words,” quoted on The Daily Mail.
The Jerusalem Post reported that as the peace plan was being accepted, Syrian troops were pushing into North Lebanon to fight rebels. The New York Times added that anti-Assad groups reported 57 casualties across the country. The BBC said that the UN’s human rights chief, Navi Pillay says that the Syrian regime is systematically detaining and torturing children.
It comes as casualties in the uprising near 9,000. Assad has also been on a walkabout in the Baba Amr area of the ravaged city of Homs, a center of the rebellion, claiming that life will soon get back to normal. He was reportedly heavily guarded. Syrian authorities, reported The Jerusalem Post , continue to suggest that the violence is caused by foreign-backed terrorists.
Commentators are all sceptical of Assad’s stance, and suggest that Annan might be being overly optimistic. However, most agree that the peace “plan” is at least a step in the right direction – not least because it’s managed to get China and Russia on side.
What does the plan say? Syria will work with Kofi Annan to “address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.” Fighting will stop, and violence will end under UN supervision. Every day there will be a two hour “humanitarian pause” to allow for aid to be delivered. People who have been detained arbitrarily will be released. Journalists will be allowed freedom of movement in the country. And freedom of association and a right to demonstrate peacefull will be allowed.
What doesn’t it say? That Assad should immediately step down – unlike two previous plans, which China and Russia had opposed.
What do the opposition think? That Assad is simply stalling. Louay Safi, of the opposition Syrian National Council, said: ‘We are not sure if it’s political maneuvering or a sincere act. We have no trust in the current regime. … We have to see that they have stopped killing civilians,” quoted on The Daily Mail. They also suggest, reported The New York Times, that Assad had bussed in supporters to greet him in Homs.
What does the UN say? Paulo Pinheiro, the head of a United Nations panel investigating rights abuses in the conflict, said in a telephone interview to The New York Times that he was “very happy about the news today. I think this is the correct thing to do at this moment. There is no other game in town.”
At least it’s on the right track. The thing about this peace plan, said a Guardian editorial, is that both sides will be acting “in bad faith.” Assad is clearly intending not to lose control; the UN, meanwhile, is clearly trying to bring down Assad. The revenge of the opposition will only be delayed, not renounced. But the solution should continue. Even pausing the conflict for a moment would be a gain; plus the agreement of powers such as the Arab League and Russia is something to be commended, whilst the introduction of the UN into the conflict will allow an “impartial witness.” However, nothing is set in stone. “If the plan falls, that would not be a surprise. If it, or something like it, succeeds, it will only extend the conflict in a new form, but one which might reduce its human costs.”
Alice in Wonderland. It’s all fantastical, said Ira Sharkansky on The Jerusalem Post. Syrian news outlets aren’t reporting the supposed peace plan; in fact, violence seems to be escalating. Annan is obviously “not an innocent abroad” – but the game he’s playing is one without end. The parallels with Obama and Iran are obvious. Judith Miller on Fox News went even further, and suggested that Assad, by agreeing to the plan, is actually trying to further divide the opposition and prevent Westerners from arming the Free Syrian Army. And if Assad does get ousted, then what will replace him? Look at Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood rise there. But not much could be worse than Assad.