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Syria Elections: Opposition Boycotts, US Says Vote 'Borders On Ludicrous'

By BASSEM MROUE and JOHN HEILPRIN 05/08/12 03:07 PM ET AP

Syria Elections
In this photo taken during a government-organized tour, Syrian campaign workers wait outside a polling station during the parliamentary elections, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, May 7, 2012. Syrians cast ballots Monday in parliamentary elections billed by the regime as key to President Bashar Assad's political reforms, but the opposition dismissed the vote as a sham meant to preserve his autocratic rule. (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman)

DAMASCUS, Syria — International envoy Kofi Annan gave a bleak assessment of the crisis in Syria on Tuesday, saying violence remains at "unacceptable levels" and warning that his peace plan is the country's last chance to avert a disastrous civil war.

Annan insisted there is still hope and said the presence of U.N. observers has had a calming effect on the crisis, which has killed at least 9,000 people since March 2011.

"There is a profound concern that the country could otherwise descend into full civil war and the implications of that are frightening," Annan told reporters in Geneva after briefing a closed-door session of the U.N. Security Council in New York by videoconference. The observation mission, he said, "is the only remaining chance to stabilize the country."

Syria has become one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Arab Spring, and world powers have been unable to stop the violence. Syrian President Bashar Assad still has a firm grip on power, and his regime portrays his opponents as terrorists out to weaken the country.

Although the death toll mounts daily, the U.N. has ruled out any military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, in part out of fears that it could make the conflict worse. Syria is an important geopolitical linchpin with a web of allegiances to powerful forces, including Lebanon's Hezbollah and close ally Iran.

Annan said a civil war in Syria would bleed outside its borders.

"It will not affect only Syria," he said. "It will have an impact on the whole region and this is why we should all be so concerned for the Syrians, for Syria, and for a region that for geopolitical reasons we should all be concerned about."

Annan has led diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the crisis, promoting a plan that calls for a truce monitored by observers to lead the way to negotiations for a resolution. But his efforts have been troubled from the start. A truce that was to begin on April 12 has never really taken hold. About 60 U.N. observers are currently in Syria and Annan said Tuesday that a full deployment of 300 should be on the ground by the end of the month.

He said even the small number of observers have had an effect so far.

"We've been small in numbers, but even where we've been able to place two or three observers, they've had a calming effect," he said. "And I think that when they are fully deployed and working as a team, establishing relations with the people, we will see much greater impact on the work that they are there to do."

On Tuesday, a cargo jet arrived in Damascus carrying 15 SUVs, computers and telecommunications equipment for the observers, a U.N. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Also on board were dozens of helmets and flak jackets, a sign of the conflict's dangers.

Although the uprising began with mostly peaceful protests, the deadly government crackdown led many opposition supporters to take up arms. Now, the regime is facing an armed insurgency targeting government installations, soldiers and security forces.

Annan called on both sides to stop the violence, not only the government. He appealed to anybody carrying guns to "think of Syria, think of the region," and disarm.

"There have been worrying episodes of violence by the government, but we have also seen attacks against government forces, troops and installations," he said. "And there have been a spate of bombings that are really worrying and I'm sure creates incredible insecurity among the civilian population."

He said there has been "some decrease in the military activities, but there are still serious violations in the cessation of violence that was agreed and the level of violence and abuses are unacceptable." He noted that government troops are still present in and around cities and towns and human rights violations are extensive and may be increasing.

After Annan's briefing, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said his country was committed to Annan's plan but accused "terrorists" along with members of al-Qaida of murdering civilians and military forces in Syria.

"This is the core issue we are facing right now and what we need to deal with urgently. As far as the Syrian government is concerned, we are still committed to guaranteeing the maximum success of the mission of Mr. Kofi Annan," Ja'afari said.

Earlier Tuesday, Jakob Kellenberger, president of International Committee of the Red Cross, said the conflict is transforming into a guerrilla war with combatants carrying out more ambushes and bombings. He also said 1.5 million Syrians are struggling to meet basic needs for food, water and shelter.

As the country struggles, the regime is pushing a reform agenda that the opposition says is little more than window dressing. On Monday, Syrians voted in parliamentary elections that the government praised as a milestone in promised political reforms. But the opposition boycotted the polls and said they were designed to strengthen Assad's grip on power.

Counting was under way Tuesday, but it was unlikely the election for the 250-member parliament will change the trajectory of the revolt. Parliament is considered a rubber stamp in a country where the president holds the real power.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday that balloting in the current atmosphere in Syria "borders on ludicrous."

On Tuesday, Annan acknowledged that his peace plan could fail.

"We may well conclude down the line that it doesn't work and a different tack has to be taken, and that will be a very sad day, and a tough day for the region," he said.

Asked what the next steps will be if his peace plan fails, Annan appeared at a loss.

"As to what else we do," he said, "I think if there are better ideas I'll be the first to jump onto it."

___

Heilprin reported from Geneva. AP writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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syria car bomb Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)


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U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:

@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.

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Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.

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The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.

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How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.

Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.

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Read the full report here.

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syria This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)


syria This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)


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According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."

Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.

Read more on Reuters.com.

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Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.

@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria

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@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS

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@ Reuters : At least 100 killed in Syrian village: opposition activists http://t.co/FG3fJwu8

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Filed by Ryan Craggs  |