International envoy Kofi Annan said he was "optimistic" on Sunday after meeting with President Bashar al-Assad, while acknowledging the difficulty of his peacekeeping mission as the government army led a deadly offensive against the rebel province of Idleb. This second meeting, like the day before, sought to negotiate a way out of the crisis as violence in the country killed more than 8,500 people in the past year.
"Yes, I am optimistic," Annan told reporters after his meeting with the Syrian President. "It will be difficult, but we must hope," he added, warning that "the situation is so bad and dangerous that we cannot afford to fail".
Previously, he said he had presented "a series of concrete proposals that would have a real impact on the field and help to launch a process to end this crisis."
According to the UN envoy and the Arab League envoy, the discussions focused on the need for an immediate halt to the violence and killings, access to humanitarian agencies and dialogue".
"The realistic answer is (...) to adopt reforms that would lay the solid foundations of a democratic Syria and a peaceful, stable, pluralistic and prosperous society on the basis of law and respect for human rights," said Mr. Annan.
On Saturday, the former UN chief conveyed to Mr. Assad his "deep concern" over the repression and met with opponents who were willing to hold a dialogue if they get "signs of good will," in particular regarding the end to violence.
Assad said Damascus was "ready to accept any genuine effort to find a solution," warning, however, that dialogue would be doomed to failure as long as "terrorist groups would continue to create chaos."
Annan is to leave Damascus Sunday for Doha. According to a Turkish diplomat, he will also soon visit the Syrian refugee camps on the Syrian-Turkish border.
This mediation attempt came as repression showed no sign of respite, after the death of over 100 people across the country yesterday. At least nine people died Sunday in Syria.
On Saturday night, the army stormed the city of Idleb and the district of Jisr al-Shoughour, according to opposition sources.
Three soldiers were killed in heavy fighting between army and deserters in this district. A fourth soldier died in fighting in the rebel stronghold of Jabal Zawouia in Idleb.
Moreover, a boxing champion, Ghiath Tayfour was shot by gunmen in Aleppo (north) - a murder attributed to a "terrorist group" by the official SANA news agency. In the same city, a Kurdish militant was killed at dawn.
On the diplomatic front, Damascus accused Doha and Riyadh of aiming to worsen the crisis. "Qatar and Saudi Arabia are mainly responsible for the continuation of events in Syria," wrote the government daily Teshreen, urging the international community "to neutralize their negative role."
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