Syria: Annan calls meeting to avoid civil war

7 dead in attack on TV station; UN talks of armed conflict

27 June, 20:48

(ANSA) - BEIRUT, JUNE 27 - An attack launched by an armed commando against the Syrian satellite television station Ikhbariya left 7 people dead this morning, at the start of another bloody day of bombings and further clashes between government forces and rebels, some of them close to Damascus. With Syria being dragged ever closer to the abyss, a situation that the UN has described as "armed conflict" in a number of areas around the country, the UN envoy Kofi Annan has played what could be his last card in the search for a political solution, calling a meeting of major powers and Arab countries in Geneva on June 30.

In the meantime, the list of atrocities committed in the country continues to grow, with the opposition Local Coordination Committees reporting at least 53 deaths today, adding to what the National Observatory for Human Rights in Syria says are more than 15,800 killed since the start of the violence in March 2011. But the situation is deteriorating day by day. The same organisation says that 3,426 people have died in the last month, 916 of them in the last week alone. The investigation committee for Syria set up by the UN, whose chair, the Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, was able to visit the country for the first time last week, has said that the fighting is "increasingly militarised", with supplies of arms continuing to arrive on both sides.

The Commission has been unable to identify with any certainty who was behind the massacre in Houla on May 25, in which dozens of civilians and many children were killed, but explained that it believes "forces loyal to the government to be responsible for many of the deaths". Reports of further atrocities, however, are coming thick and fast. In one case reported by Amnesty International, three students from Aleppo were arrested and killed and their bodies burned when they were found helping out in a field hospital in which injured members of the opposition were being treated. The Local Coordination Committees, meanwhile, say that 22 people, 12 of them civilians, have died in the last three days in Kafar Shams, in the southern province of Deraa, which has been bombed by government forces during clashes with soldiers from a nearby garrison who deserted, taking weapons with them.

In another episode, the authorities claim that three journalists and their four guides were killed in the attack on the Ikhbariya television station in the town of Khan al-Shih, 35 kilometres south-west of Damascus. "We believe that the European Union and Arab and international organisations are responsible for this massacre," said the Syrian Information Minister, Omran al-Zoubi, complaining of the stance and sanctions taken against the regime by the EU. Before leaving the area, attackers laid waste to the editorial offices and placed explosives that they later detonated.

Those invited to Saturday's meeting in Geneva include the Foreign Ministers from the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, Russia, China, France and UK), those from Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, the secretary generals of the United Nations and of the Arab League and the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton. Iran, whose presence was insisted upon by Russia, has not been invited, but Annan said that Tehran will be informed of the outcome of the meetings because it must "remain involved in the search for a solution.

Speaking during a visit to Lebanon, the Italian Foreign Minister, Giulio Terzi, said that if "the Annan plan is reviewed by the Security Council and if a decision is taken to send a more considerable team of observers, Italy will reason and take its decisions". (ANSA).

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