(CNN) — A top diplomat came face to face Saturday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to stop the carnage while on the streets, security forces continued to kill with impunity.
Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with al-Assad in Damascus in negotiations aimed at pushing the Syrian leader to order a ceasefire and begin talks with the opposition.
The only assessment of the high-stakes meeting so far has come from Syrian state-run media which described it as taking place in a “positive atmosphere.”
Al-Assad told Annan that he was ready to find a solution but that such an effort would first require a look at reality on the ground and not relying on what “is promoted by some regional and international countries to distort the facts and give a picture contrary to what Syria is undergoing.”
He also reiterated that “political dialogue or action cannot take place or succeed if there are terrorist armed gangs on the ground that are working on spreading chaos and target the stability of the homeland,” the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said.
The Syrian regime has maintained throughout the uprising that armed thugs were responsible for causing the bloodshed.
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Annan rejected international intervention and stated his belief in a peaceful solution, SANA said.
While the two men spoke, Syrians were still dying in villages, towns and cities across the nation.
At least 31 people died Saturday, according to the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of Syrian activists. Among them were 16 Free Syrian Army fighters who died in an ambush in Jisr al-Shagur, not far from the northern city of Idlib.
Activist Abdel Aziz told CNN that Idlib was suffering the kind of heavy shelling the world had seen in the besieged city of Homs.
He estimated shelling every two minutes and that many residences and buildings had been damaged or destroyed. He also reported that security forces were searching house to house to arrest activists.
“The number of tanks is much greater than defectors,” Aziz said. “This scenario is very similar to what happened in Homs.”
Violent clashes between government forces and defected soldiers erupted in the town of Daraya, opposition activists said.
And in the Daraa village of Jezah, “the regime’s army is indiscriminately bombing the city with anti-aircraft missiles. They village is under siege in all directions,” said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists.
Annan traveled to Damascus to seek “an urgent end to … human rights violations and to initiate efforts to promote a peaceful solution” to the violence that has wracked the country for nearly a year, said his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.
He met later in the day with opposition, civil society and women’s groups, Fawzi said.
Abdel Aziz al-Khair, a member of the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change, called Annan’s visit with al-Assad “a small sign of hope, yet so dim.”
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“There is no way that we can have any dialogue with the regime until the security campaign ends,” said al-Khair, who met with Annan Saturday.
“They keep playing the victim role, (saying) that they are defending the innocent civilians while they slaughter them and blame the bloodshed on others,” he said.
Annan seemed extremely concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Syria and said he had received contradicting reports regarding the ongoing conflict, al-Khair said.
Annan distanced himself from military intervention as did opposition members, agreeing that an armed conflict would only worsen the predicament of civilians, al-Khair said.
Both Annan and opposition members agreed that plans for a resolution cannot be implemented as long as the bloodshed continues.
“It is too early to apply a plan to resolve the crisis, ” al-Khair said. “The situation on the ground … is catastrophic.”
Annan will stay overnight in Damascus to see if he can get a response from al-Assad Sunday, according to his spokesman.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Annan was trying to “broker a swift transition in which ultimately Assad steps aside and the people of Syria are able to choose an interim government that’s representative and leads to elections.”
Rice said she wants the situation to be resolved peacefully, “to the extent that that remains still a viable outcome.”
But time was running out for a diplomatic solution, said Haytham Manna of the opposition Coordinating Committee of Democratic Transition in Syria.
“We are getting to the point of no return,” said Manna, a Paris-based dissident. “If we can’t reach a political agreement today, we will head toward the abyss. … The regime is pushing the country as a whole toward a full scale armed struggle between the very well organized military institution and our people.”
Friday, 85 people were killed across Syria, the LCC said.
A video uploaded to YouTube purportedly shot in Homs shows a dead body, its head blown off by shrapnel.
“This is Bashar Assad’s message to us. This is how he is welcoming Kofi Annan’s visit,” a man’s voice on the video says. “We ask the Arab world to look at this dead body, to the whole world, to Kofi Annan — look at our sufferings. This old man was killed for no reason. … May God curse you, Bashar.”
CNN could not verify the authenticity of the video.
Meanwhile in Cairo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed with his Arab League counterparts on key issues regarding Syria. They called for an end to the violence; independent monitoring; unfettered aid delivery; and support for Annan’s mission.
But there was no getting around to the contentious nature of Lavrov’s presence at the Arab League meeting after Russia vetoed a key United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian regime. China also voted against the measure.
Lavrov defended his nation’s ties to the region.
“We have always supported the rights of the Arab world for independence and free development,” Lavrov said. “If you take the volume of economic ties with any of your countries then what we have, unfortunately, in trade and economy is in comparably low(er) than the volume of trade and economic ties with other outside partners.”
Arab leaders called for intervention given the situation within Syria and held firm to their position that al-Assad must step down.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said the Arab League supported Annan’s mission but it was also time to send in Arab and other international troops into Syria.
The United Nations says more than 7,500 have died in the past year, and at least one activist group says more than 9,000 people have been killed.
CNN cannot independently confirm opposition or government reports of casualties or attacks from across Syria because the government has severely restricted the access of international journalists.
But a vast majority of reports from inside Syria show a systematic slaughter in an attempt to silence dissidents.
CNN’s Saad Abedine, Salma Abdelaziz, Ian Lee and Moni Basu contributed to this report.
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Category: World News