DAMASCUS, Syria — International envoy Kofi Annan gave a bleak assessment Tuesday of the crisis in Syria, saying violence remains at "unacceptable levels" and warning that his peace plan is the country's last chance to avert a disastrous civil war.
Annan insisted there is still hope and said the presence of U.N. observers has had a calming effect on the crisis, which has killed at least 9,000 people since March 2011.
"There is a profound concern that the country could otherwise descend into full civil war and the implications of that are frightening," Annan told reporters in Geneva after briefing a closed-door session of the U.N. Security Council in New York by videoconference. The observation mission, he said, "is the only remaining chance to stabilize the country."
Syria has become one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Arab Spring, and world powers have been unable to stop the violence. Syrian President Bashar Assad still has a firm grip on power, and his regime portrays his opponents as terrorists out to weaken the country.
Although the death toll mounts daily, the United Nations has ruled out any military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, in part out of fears that it could make the conflict worse. Syria is an important geopolitical linchpin with a web of allegiances to powerful forces, including Lebanon's Hezbollah and close ally Iran.
Annan has led diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the crisis, but a truce that was to begin April 12 has never really taken hold. About 60 U.N. observers are currently in Syria and Annan said Tuesday that a full deployment of 300 should be on the ground by the end of the month.