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Annan and Moscow urge Assad to act as rebel city falls

SYRIA: UN-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan and Russia urged President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday to speed up efforts to end the bloodletting in Syria, as regime forces overran another rebel city.

On the eve of the first anniversary of an anti-Assad revolt, the opposition suffered setbacks on both the military and political fronts, with its Syrian National Council (SNC) coalition hit by resignations.

International peace envoy Annan said he had received Assad's response to proposals he submitted in talks with the Syrian leader last week but had more questions that needed to be addressed without delay.

Annan still has “questions and is seeking answers,” his spokesman said. “But given the grave and tragic situation on the ground, everyone must realise that time is of the essence. As he said in the region, this crisis cannot be allowed to drag on,” the spokesman added.

In Damascus, a foreign ministry spokesman said only that the authorities were “committed to cooperating in a positive manner with Annan's mission so long as there is goodwill to help Syria.” Annan is to brief the UN Security Council on his mission by videoconference from Geneva on Friday, diplomats in New York said.

One, who has been briefed on the answers already sent to Annan, said on condition of anonymity: “We had always expected there would be obfuscation, there would be delay, there would be questions.” On the ground, Noureddin al-Abdo, an activist in Idlib, confirmed the rebellious city in northwestern Syria had fallen on Tuesday night after a four-day assault by regime forces.

The outgunned, rebel “Free Syrian Army (FSA) has withdrawn and regime forces have stormed the entire city and are carrying out house-to-house searches,” said Abdo, reached by telephone from Beirut.

The army launched a major offensive in Idlib province near the Turkish border on Saturday, bombarding the city and sweeping into rural areas in a bid to root out armed insurgents.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce clashes between regime forces and rebel troops in the Jabal al-Zawiya district of the province, while at least 28 people had been killed across Syria on Wednesday.

Russia, which has been accused of weakening the international response to the crisis by blocking Security Council action, on Wednesday criticised Assad for his “big delay” in implementing reforms.

In a rare public rebuke from Moscow to the Syrian leader, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Assad of “inertia” on the crisis that rights activists say has cost more than 8,500 lives in the past 12 months.

“The side in the conflict in Syria on which we have influence is the government of Bashar al-Assad. Unfortunately, his actions, in practical terms, reflect our advice far from always and far from swiftly,” Lavrov said. AFP

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