BEIRUT - President Bashar al-Assad told UN/Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on Saturday that no political solution was possible in Syria while “terrorist” groups were destabilising the country.
“Syria is ready to make a success of any honest effort to find a solution for the events it is witnessing,” state news agency SANA quoted Assad as telling his guest.
“No political dialogue or political activity can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability,” the Syrian leader said after about two hours of talks with the former UN secretary-general.
There was no immediate comment from Annan after the meeting, aimed at halting bloodshed that has cost thousands of lives since a popular uprising erupted a year ago.
While they discussed the crisis, Syrian troops were assaulting the north-western city of Idlib, a rebel bastion.
“Regime forces have just stormed into Idlib with tanks and heavy shelling is now taking place,” said an activist contacted by telephone, the sound of explosions punctuating the call.
Sixteen rebel fighters, seven soldiers and four civilians were killed in the Idlib fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said 15 other people, including three soldiers, had been killed in violence elsewhere.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met Annan in Cairo earlier in the day, told the Arab League his country was “not protecting any regime”, but did not believe the Syrian crisis could be blamed on one side alone.
He called for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid access, but Qatar and Saudi Arabia sharply criticised Moscow’s stance.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who has led calls for Assad to be isolated and for Syrian rebels to be armed, said a ceasefire was not enough. Syrian leaders must be held to account and political prisoners freed, he declared.