, DAMASCUS, Jul 3 – International peace envoy Kofi Annan said on Tuesday that a real ceasefire is imperative in Syria as the death toll mounts nearly three months after a truce he brokered was supposed to take effect.
The comments from Annan’s spokesman came after UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned that foreign arms deliveries to both government and opposition are fuelling a conflict that rights monitors say has killed more than 16,500 people since March last year.
Pillay said both sides were guilty of “serious” right violations. New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report published Tuesday that the government is holding tens of thousands of detainees in a “torture archipelago”.
Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said that an agreement reached at a conference of the major powers in Geneva on Saturday was “quite an accomplishment” and marked a “shift” in the positions of longtime Damascus allies Beijing and Moscow.
Both the state media and the exiled opposition had branded the deal on a political transition for Syria a failure, the opposition because at Russian and Chinese insistence it contained no explicit call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
“Many forces have joined hands here on Saturday… don’t underestimate the shift particularly from Russian and China,” Fawzi said.
“Let’s wait until the dust settles on this agreement and I think everyone will see that it was quite an accomplishment that was achieved.”
He said the agreement in principle on a political transition was among the achievements, but added that a complete halt to the violence was vital first.
“It’s imperative that we get a ceasefire,” Fawzi.
Nearly 5,400 have been killed in Syria since the original ceasefire agreed as part of Annan’s peace plan was supposed to take effect on April 12, according to figures from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
In New York, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Pillay said the violence was being fuelled by arms supplies from abroad to both the government and the opposition.
“Any further militarisation of the conflict must be avoided at all costs,” she said.
While Pillay did not name countries, Russia and Iran are key suppliers to Assad’s government, while Gulf states, notably Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have given weapons to the increasingly well-armed opposition.
Pillay said that government and opposition alike were carrying out “serious” new rights violations, including attacks on hospitals.
With the United Nations considering the future of its observers in Syria, Pillay said she told the Security Council it must “support and strengthen” the mission which was a centrepiece of Annan’s original six-point peace plan.
Human Rights Watch documented 27 detention facilities across Syria it said were used to hold people swept up in the government’s crackdown on an uprising now in its 16th month.
The group said it had carried out more than 200 interviews with former detainees, and military and intelligence defectors, “almost all” of whom described experiencing or witnessing torture, including “prolonged beatings, often with objects such as batons and wires.”
Other methods included “holding the detainees in painful stress positions for prolonged periods of time, often with the use of specially devised equipment, the use of electricity, burning with car battery acid, sexual assault and humiliation, the pulling of fingernails, and mock execution.”
Human Rights Watch said that in addition to the 27 facilities — operated by four main intelligence agencies commonly referred to as the “mukhabarat” — detainees were being held in stadiums, military bases, schools and hospitals.
The report quoted a former intelligence officer as describing a wide range of torture methods, including hanging prisoners by their hands from the ceiling and putting prisoners in coffins and threatening to kill them.
Meanwhile as Turkey reported a new mass defection of Syrian troops across the tense border, Assad said he regretted “100 percent” that his country’s defence forces shot down a Turkish fighter jet on June 22, but still insisted the plane was in Syrian airspace.
He rejected Turkey’s accusations that the Syrian defence forces intentionally shot down the aircraft, which was on a training mission over the Mediterranean.
“A country at war always acts like this, this plane was flying at a very low altitude and was shot down by anti-aircraft defences which mistook it for an Israeli plane, which attacked Syria in 2007,” Assad said in an interview published by Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper”
Assad said Syria had no plans to send troops to the border with Turkey, even after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent reinforcements of Turkish troops to the frontier.
“Despite whatever the Erdogan government does, we will not proceed with a concentration of troops at the border,” said Assad. “The Turkish people are friends and understand us.”