BEIRUT, Lebanon — A high-profile international mission to end the Syrian crisis stumbled Friday before it began as the opposition rejected calls by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan for dialogue with President Bashar Assad as pointless and out of touch after a year of violence.
The dispute exposes the widening gap between opposition leaders who say only military aid can stop Assad's regime, and Western powers who fear more weapons will exacerbate the conflict.
Western and Arab powers are backing Annan's two-day trip to Syria, starting today, when he is to meet with Assad. The former U.N. secretary-general — now a special U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria — has said he seeks to start a political process to end the crisis and warned against further militarization of a conflict that appears headed toward civil war.
Opposition leaders and activists rejected Annan's plans Friday, saying they ignore the nature of Assad's authoritarian regime as well as the thousands killed by security forces.
By phone from Paris, the head of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, told the Associated Press that Annan was overlooking what the opposition considers the root of the problem: The regime's use of overwhelming military force to crush dissent.
Violence continued on Friday, with the opposition reporting 54 people were killed across Syria, almost half of them during government raids of villages in Idlib.