9 killed in Syria, pressure to implement Annan plan increases
Syrian government troops shelled several dissident areas Saturday, killing at least nine people, according to opposition activists, as diplomatic efforts increased to pressure Damascus to implement Kofi Annan's peace plan, dpa reported.
In the Saudi capital of Riyadh, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to meet with foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to discuss the Syrian crisis and pressure to end the "bloodbath there," GCC sources said.
Clinton, who arrived in Riyadh Friday for a two-day visit, is to brief GCC officials on the US view of the developments in Syria, the sources said.
The talks come ahead of an international gathering of Friends of the Syrian People in Istanbul Sunday, where efforts to end the conflict and encourage a democratic transition will be discussed, according to the US State Department.
The United States has led other nations in calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, but has opposed military intervention for fear of triggering a full-blown civil war.
Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy, Friday urged al-Assad to immediately implement a ceasefire as part of a peace plan aimed at ending the violence.
"We haven't seen any signs by Assad or his regime that they're following the first element of that plan is for a ceasefire," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday.
Annan's plan calls for a ceasefire to be monitored by UN observers, access to humanitarian services and talks between the government and the opposition.
Al-Assad has said he would "spare no effort" for the success of Annan's proposal, according to the official Syrian news agency SANA.
But he insisted that it would only work if "terrorist acts" by armed rebels and foreign powers stopped.
While world powers additionally discuss in Istanbul the need for a unifying vision for the Syrian opposition, they also recognize "they're under relentless pressure by the Assad regime trying to basically survive ... And you've got elements of the opposition who are outside the country," Toner said.
On Saturday, as on nearly every day since the uprising against al-Assad started in March 2011, his troops shelled the dissident provinces of Homs in central Syria and Idlib near the border with Turkey, the opposition said.
At least nine civilians were killed, mainly in Idlib, activists added.
They said troops shelled the district of Al-Khalidiyeh in Homs in an attack that started 12 days ago.
Fierce clashes were reported between troops and army defectors in the southern province of Daraa, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The fighting erupted after the defectors attacked a personnel carrier and killed one army soldier, the group said.
Similar fighting was reported in the capital Damascus and on its outskirts, but there were no reports of casualties.
News from Syria is difficult to verify as the government has barred most foreign media from restive areas.
According to recent UN estimates, more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began.