Seeking Ceasefire In Syria, Kofi Annan Meets Bashar Al-Assad

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Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) meets U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in Damascus March 10, 2012, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA.
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, right, meets United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan in Damascus on Saturday in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA. Annan pressed Assad for a political solution to Syria's yearlong rebellion and the bloody crackdown on it that has led to thousands of people being killed.

In the latest attempt to bring the bloodshed in Syria to a speedy conclusion, Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League special envoy, met with Bashar al-Assad, the country's president, in the capital city of Damascus on Saturday, the BBC reported.

However, Assad told Annan during their meeting Saturday that no political solution was possible in Syria while so-called terrorist groups were destabilizing the country, Reuters reported, citing the state news agency SANA.

Annan is seeking an immediate ceasefire by the Syrian army and the opposition forces, according to U.N. Secretary-General  Ban Ki-moon, the BBC said. Annan plans to speak with representatives of both sides on Sunday, as well.

Calls for reform that began with Arab Spring democracy protests a year ago have degenerated into violence that has brought Syria to the brink of civil war. Already, the U.N. has reported, more than 7,500 people have died as a result.

Before flying to Damascus to talk with Assad, Annan met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Cairo, Reuters reported.

Moscow is one of Assad's few remaining friends, foreign or domestic, and it could play a role in a future solution to the present problem.

Lavrov reiterated Moscow's calls for an ending to the violence and the beginning of dialogue between the two sides -- as he also emphasized its continuing opposition to foreign interference -- while Annan confirmed his intention of interacting actively with Russia in resolving the Syrian crisis, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement quoted by Reuters.

Meanwhile, Syrian armed forces tried to storm the city of Idlib using heavy machine-gun fire and shelling, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an emailed statement Saturday, according to Bloomberg. Clashes between the government and the opposition also occurred close to Damascus, the United Kingdom-based group said.

There has been no independent confirmation of the apparent Idlib offensive, but smoke rose into the sky behind some apartment buildings there, according to a team in the area affiliated with The Associated Press. Some families were seen fleeing the violence or taking shelter, AP reported.

Military reinforcements have been pouring into Idlib for days, including dozens of armored personnel carriers and tanks, activists told AP, fueling concerns Idlib would be the focus of an offensive comparable with one the government mounted to recapture the rebel-held district of Baba Amr in Homs after a bloody siege.

Even as the groundwork for the diplomatic initiative this weekend was being laid, bloodshed continued on Friday across Syria, the BBC reported, noting the Local Coordination Committees there said 77 people had been killed: 28 in Idlib, 26 in Homs, nine in and around Damascus, six in Deraa, four in Hama, two in Latakia, and one each in Aleppo and Bokamal.

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