Tuesday, February 20, 2018

U.N. envoy leaves Syria empty-handed

BEIRUT, Lebanon — After a second day of meetings with President Bashar Assad, a United Nations envoy left Damascus on Sunday without securing a deal to end Syria's nearly year-old conflict, which ground on with heavy shelling in the northern province of Idlib.

Kofi Annan, the envoy and a former U.N. secretary-general, said he remained optimistic about the possibility for a deal but acknowledged the difficulties.

"You have to start by stopping the killing and the misery and the abuse that is going on today and then give time for a political settlement," he said, according to Reuters. "It's going to be difficult, but we have hope."

In a statement released by his office after the meeting, Annan said he left several proposals with Syrian officials. Annan, who is from Ghana, said he asked Assad to engage with the new realities of a changed country, citing an African proverb: "You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail."

For the moment Assad, as well as many of his opponents, have shown little interest in a political settlement of a widening war that the United Nations estimates has killed at least 7,500 people. Assad told Annan on Saturday that no political deal was possible while what he called "armed terrorists" were operating in the country. Many of Assad's opponents have said he must step down before any negotiations take place.

Annan flew to Doha, Qatar, for talks with that country's emir, a leading critic of the Syrian government who has called for arming the rebels.

The Syrian military offensive continued Sunday in the northern city of Idlib, activists there said. Shelling in the area, which started before dawn, could be heard miles away in Turkey, the Associated Press reported.

An activist reached by Skype in Idlib province said that the army stormed the village of Al Janoudiyah, near the city of Jisr al-Shughour, and several neighborhoods in the city of Idlib. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said at least one child was killed during the shelling of Al Janoudiyah. The death could not be confirmed.

For weeks, residents have been fleeing the area, fearing that the government would focus on Idlib after a monthlong siege of the city of Homs, another stronghold of armed opponents of Assad's government. People who have not been able to stay with relatives in Syria have fled to Turkey.

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