Syrian peace plan falters

The plan meant to restore peace in Syria is not working as violence continues.

Syrian flag. Picture: AFP

BEIRUT - Both rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are intensifying violence in Syria and striving for military gains rather than peaceful transition, the chief U.N. monitor in Syria said on Friday.

Major-General Robert Mood's comments came as Russia further dug its feet in against Western pressure to topple Assad, insisting it would not discuss a post-Assad Syria.

"Violence over the past 10 days has been intensified, again willingly by both parties, with losses on both sides and at significant risk to our observers," Mood said in Damascus.

"There appears to be a lack of willingness to see a peaceful transition. Instead there is a push towards advancing military positions."

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said discussions regarding a political transformation in Syria after Assad "are not being held and cannot be held, because to decide for the Syrian people contradicts our position completely".

"We do not get involved in overthrowing regimes - neither through approval of unilateral actions by the U.N. Security Council nor by participation in any political plots," he said.

His comments were a response to a remark by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggesting Washington and Moscow were discussing a post-Assad strategy in Syria.

Russia's Foreign Ministry also rebutted accusations by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton that Russia was sending attack helicopters to Syria. It said Moscow had made no new deliveries, but had at some point carried out "previously planned repairs of (helicopters), which were delivered to Syria many years ago".

WORLD DIVIDED

World powers are deeply divided over Syria, with Russia and China - both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power - blocking efforts by Western powers to condemn Assad or call for his removal after 15 months of bloodshed.

Violence has surged in recent weeks after government forces and allied militia launched offensives to regain territories controlled by the opposition and rebels abandoned a ceasefire negotiated by international envoy Kofi Annan.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said his worst fears were being realised in Syria.

"Our biggest fear was to reach this point that we are in today, it is almost at a state of civil war. We did what we could, unfortunately the situation is worst," he said on Turkish-language channel CNNTurk.

Britain's U.N. envoy Lyall Grant said on Thursday "it is time for the Security Council to take much tougher action to enforce the Kofi Annan plan," echoing comments on Tuesday by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who suggested the possibility of a no-fly zone.

Human Rights Watch accused Assad's forces of using rape and other sexual violence against men, women and children during the uprising, citing interviews with victims.

"Sexual violence in detention is one of many horrific weapons in the Syrian government's torture arsenal and Syrian security forces regularly use it to humiliate and degrade detainees with complete impunity," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

"The assaults are not limited to detention facilities - government forces and pro-government shabiha militia members have also sexually assaulted women and girls during home raids and residential sweeps."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was striving to alleviate growing suffering.

"More and more people are in need of help," said Alexandre Equey, deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Syria. "In some areas, people are unable to get out, and help cannot get in."

Heavy clashes were reported across Syria on Friday. Opposition activists said they would hold peaceful protests. In amateur video posted on the Internet, demonstrators held signs saying: "Russia: enemy number one for the Syrian people."