BEIRUT - The rebel Free Syrian Army said the battle to “liberate” Damascus has begun, as fighting raged in the capital on Tuesday and the army countered it has the situation under control, meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to do everything to support Kofi Annan’s plan for ending the violence in Syria that the UN-Arab League envoy said had reached “unacceptable” proportions.
The appeal came after the Free Syrian Army announced it had launched a large-scale operation dubbed “the Damascus volcano and earthquakes of Syria.” Colonel Kassem Saadeddine, the Homs-based spokesman for the FSA’s Joint Command, said “victory is nigh,” and that the fighting would go on until the whole of the capital has been conquered. “We have transferred the battle from Damascus province to the capital,” said Saadeddine. “We have a clear plan to control the whole of Damascus. We only have light weapons, but it’s enough.” Helicopters were deployed in Damascus for the first time, shooting heavily into neighbourhoods that have become centres of resistance.
The army had entered Al-Midan district and surrounded Zein al-Abideen mosque, while troops gave residents an ultimatum to leave ahead of an imminent attack, the officer said on condition of anonymity.
“Our battle is now in Damascus... and this requires that we mobilise all the forces and all our efforts to secure victory,” said the Brotherhood, a key component of the opposition Syrian National Council. Annan arrived for his first meeting with the Kremlin chief since Putin’s return for a third term, hoping to avert a new Moscow veto of a Security Council resolution threatening sanctions against Russia’s ally.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the 90-minute meeting that he could “see no reason why we cannot also agree at the UN Security Council. We are ready for this”.
But neither Putin nor other Russian official offered any sign that they were ready to take a harder line with President Bashar al-Assad or compromise on punitive measures against the regime’s brutal use of force.
“From the very start, from the first steps, we supported and continue to support your efforts aimed at restoring civil peace,” Putin told Annan at the start of their talks. “We will do everything that depends on us to support your efforts,” the Russian leader said.
“The Council, I expect, will be sending out a message that the killings must stop and that the situation on the ground is unacceptable,” Annan said.
“Hopefully, the Council will come together in a united manner and press ahead in search of peace,” he added.
Reportedly, 35 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday, including 16 civilians, 14 regime troops and five rebels. In Damascus, seven civilians and one rebel were killed.
The Observatory’s toll reports cannot be independently verified. The watchdog has estimated more than 17,000 people have been killed in violence since the revolt broke out in March 2011.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the crisis in Syria is too unpredictable to rule out “any option,” insisting that a Chapter VII resolution of the UNSC is needed. “The situation (in Syria) is so grave and so unpredictable that I do not think any option should be ruled out in the future,” Hague said in Amman at a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh.
“Clearly, we have failed so far. The process that Kofi Annan has launched has failed so far to bring about a peaceful political process and so now we need the Security Council to greatly strengthen the pressure for that to happen.”
The Iraqi govt urged its citizens in strife-hit Syria to return home because of “increasing attacks” on them. “Iraqis are guests who live temporarily in Syria and the Iraqi government calls on them to return to the country,” govt spokesman Ali Dabbagh said.