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Annan holds talks with Syria's Assad

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Envoy hoping to salvage peace planKofi Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy, has held talks with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, as the UN human rights office has declared that more than 85 people who were killed in the Houla region were "summarily executed".

Annan expressed what his spokesperson, Ahmed Fawzi, called "the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria" when he met Assad in Damascus on Tuesday.
 
"He conveyed in frank terms his view to President Assad that the six point plan cannot succeed without bold steps to stop the violence and release detainees, and stressed the importance of full implementation of the plan," Fawzi said.

Annan, a former UN secretary-general, arrived in Syria a day earlier, and held meetings with UN observers and Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister.

He promised to hold "frank" talks with Assad, and said that those who were responsible for the "tragic" massace in Houla, in central Syria, on Friday must be held to account.

Annan called the Houla killing "an appalling moment with profound consequences".

In his meeting with Annan, Muallem explained "the truth of what is happening in Syria and the attacks against law and order which are aimed at sowing chaos... [despite] the reforms that Syria has adopted in all areas", the official SANA news agency said.

The success of Annan's six-point peace plan depends on "the end of terrorism," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the UN-Arab League envoy on Tuesday, state television reported.

"The success of the Annan plan depends on the end of terrorist acts and those who support them and the smuggling of weapons," Assad was quoted as saying.

'Summarily executed'

Tuesday's meeting in Damascus came as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that entire families had been shot in their homes and that fewer than 20 of the 108 Houla victims were killed by artillery.

Most of the victims, including children, were shot at close range, the UN human rights office said.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the body, said the conclusions were based on accounts gathered by UN monitors and corroborated by other sources.

"Most of the ... victims were summarily executed in two separate incidents," Colville said in Geneva, Switzerland.

He said witnesses blamed armed pro-government forces, known as "shabiha", for the attacks. He noted that the shabiha sometimes "in concert" with government forces.

The killings in the collection of villages known as Houla, located near Homs, have drawn fresh attention to the conflict in Syria, where a 15-month uprising against Assad has increasingly turned violent on both sides.

The UN has said that government forces fired tank shells and artillery at Houla, but has stopped short of holding the government entirely responsible.

'Armed terrorists' blamed

Assad's regime has denied any role in the killings, blaming them on "armed terrorists" who attacked army positions in the area and slaughtered innocent civilians.

"What is very clear is that this was an absolutely abominable event that happened in Houla and at least a substantial part of it was summary executions of civilians including women and children," Colville said.

Activists have posted videos of tanks and armoured vehicles in the middle of cities, a violation of Annan's six-point peace plan, and UN observers said they found spent tank and artillery shells in Houla after the massacre there.

International condemnation of the killings in Houla have poured in since Friday, and on Tuesday Francois Hollande, the French president, announced that the Syrian ambassador to Paris was to be expelled over the incident.

The German news agency DPA reported that the Syrian ambassador to Berlin was also to be expelled, and government sources in the United Kingdom indicated that the senior-most Syrian diplomat in that country was also due to be asked to leave, in what appeared to be a co-ordinated diplomatic thrust.

Earlier in the day, Australia announced that it was expelling the senior-most Syrian diplomat in the country, along with one other official.

Lebanese citizen killed

Annan is trying to salvage the plan that, among other proposals, calls for a ceasefire to be established between government forces and the armed opposition. While both sides agreed to the ceasefire earlier, it now appears to have broken down.

Activists say that more than 13,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, and the UN put the toll at 9,000 in March 2012.

On Tuesday, the violence seeped outside of the country's borders once again, with a Lebanese citizen reported to have been killed and five others wounded after being fired upon from a Syrian border post, the Lebanese state news agency reported.

Also on Tuesday, one of 17 Syrians reportedly wounded in clashes in northern Syria died in a Turkish hospital, the Turkish state news agency reported.

Two others died before reaching the border, Anadolu reported.


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