Kofi Annan in Tehran seeks Iran's help in solving Syria crisis; activists report new violence

  • Article by: ALI AKBAR DAREINI and BASSEM MROUE , Associated Press
  • Updated: April 11, 2012 - 4:19 AM
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In this image made from amateur video released by Shaam News Network and accessed Tuesday, April 10, 2012, purports to show black smoke rising through the air from a building in Homs, Syria. Syrian activists reported military attacks on two towns Tuesday, even as the government claimed its military forces have begun pulling out of some towns in compliance with a U.N.-brokered truce deal.

Photo: , AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video

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TEHRAN - Special envoy Kofi Annan said Wednesday in Tehran that Iran could help solve the crisis in Syria, where activists reported fresh violence a day before an international cease-fire is supposed to take effect.

Iran is one of Syria's strongest allies, and former U.N. chief Annan went there to bolster support for his faltering plan to stop the country's slide toward civil war.

"Iran, given its special relations with Syria, can be part of the solution," Annan said during a news conference with Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. "The geopolitical location of Syria is such that any miscalculation and error can have unimaginable consequences."

The conflict in Syria is among the most explosive of the Arab Spring, in part because of the country's allegiances to powerful forces including Lebanon's Hezbollah and Shiite powerhouse Iran. The uprising that began more than a year ago seeks the ouster of authoritarian President Bashar Assad.

Iran has opposed any foreign intervention in the crisis and Salehi insisted that "change in Syria" should come under the leadership of Assad.

Syria's regime defied the Tuesday deadline to pull out troops from cities and towns that was set in the deal brokered by Annan and launched fresh attacks on rebellious areas.

But Annan insists there is still time to salvage the truce by 6 a.m. Thursday, the deadline for government and rebel fighters to cease all hostilities.

"We've been in touch with them (Syrian rebels) and have had positive answers from them. ... I think by 6 in the morning on the 12th, Thursday, we should see a much improved situation on the ground," Annan said.

"It is possible to do it and it should be in the interests of the people of Syria," he added.

There was more violence on Wednesday, putting the chances of a truce even deeper in doubt. Syrian troops took control of large parts of villages and towns near the border with Turkey.

The Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, reported shelling of several rebel-held neighborhoods in the central city of Homs. A second network, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said "tens of army vehicles" are deploying in the southern town of Maaraba.

The Observatory added that two people were killed in the eastern town of Qoriah during raids by regime force.

Activist Mohammed Abu Nasr said Syrian forces entered the border town of Azaz, about two miles (three kilometers) from the Turkish border and set homes of activists on fire.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, obtained by The Associated Press, Annan said Tuesday that Syria has not pulled troops and heavy military equipment out of cities and towns, and that the regime's last-minute conditions put the entire cease-fire at risk.

The council strongly backed Annan, with all 15 members — including Syrian allies China and Russia — approving a media statement expressing "deep concern" at the failure by Damascus to withdraw its troops and heavy equipment.

___

Mroue reported from Beirut.

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