NEAR ALEPPO, Syria, Aug 2 – Former UN chief Kofi Annan said on Thursday he was stepping down as international envoy for Syria, complaining that his April peace plan had not received the support it deserved.
As the Syrian army deployed fighter jets against rebels armed with tanks around the commercial capital Aleppo, Annan regretted an “increasing militarisation” of the 17-month conflict.
He also bemoaned the lack of consensus on the UN Security Council, where China and Russia last month vetoed a resolution that would have threatened sanctions against Syria if it failed to act on Annan’s battered peace blueprint.
“I did not receive all the support that the cause deserved,” Annan told a hastily scheduled press conference in Geneva after his resignation was announced by UN chief Ban Ki-moon at UN headquarters in New York.
“You have to understand: as an envoy, I can’t want peace more than the protagonists, more than the Security Council or the international community for that matter.”
Annan said “continuous finger-pointing and name-calling” in the Security Council had hindered his attempts to implement his six-point peace plan that was supposed to start with a reciprocal ceasefire from April 12 that never took hold.
“The increasing militarisation on the ground and the lack of unanimity in the Security Council fundamentally changed my role,” he said.
But he predicted that President Bashar al-Assad would go “sooner or later” and did not rule out his successor having more luck or success, despite his warning there was “no Plan B”.
“These crises are never static… as the situation evolves there may be other approaches,” he said..
Despite Annan’s criticism of the “finger pointing” at the United Nations, Washington was quick to blame Annan’s resignation on the refusal of Beijing and Moscow to back resolutions against Damascus.
“Annan’s resignation highlights the failure at the United Nations Security Council of Russia and China to support meaningful resolutions against Assad that would have held Assad accountable,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Russia said it regretted Annan’s decision and insisted it had always supported him “very strongly.”
“We understand that that’s his decision; we regret that he chose to do so,” UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.
The Syrian foreign ministry expressed “regrets” at Annan’s announcement and accused “countries which seek to destabilise Syria” of having “hindered and continuing to hinder” his mission.
– ‘Most difficult of assignments’ –
In New York, Ban paid tribute to Annan for his efforts in the “most difficult” of assignments, adding that he would step down at the end of the month and the search for a successor had already begun, in cooperation with the Arab League.
“I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Mr Annan for the determined and courageous efforts he has made as the Joint Special Envoy for Syria,” Ban said.
“Kofi Annan deserves our profound admiration for the selfless way in which he has put his formidable skills and prestige to this most difficult and potentially thankless of assignments,” he added.
The announcement that Annan was quitting came as rebel forces shelled the Menagh air base, 30 kilometres (18 miles) northwest of Aleppo, in an intensifying battle for control of Syria’s commercial capital.
The rebels used tanks for the first time in its assault on the base, a commander said.
“We had already attacked the airport several times, but this was the first time we used heavy weapons,” which were “four tanks taken from Anadan,” Abdel Aziz Salameh told AFP.
Salameh was referring to a strategic military checkpoint outside Aleppo that the rebels captured on Monday, opening up a corridor to rear bases in Turkey.
“The destruction was greater than the time before,” he added.
An AFP reporter who witnessed the bombardment said the rebels told him it was “an attack to take this airport being used by helicopters and planes that are firing on Aleppo.”
It is difficult to get an overall picture of the situation inside Aleppo itself because of a lack of independent sources and restrictions on journalists.
Thursday’s air base assault came after US President Barack Obama was reported to have signed a covert document authorising US support for the rebels.
The directive was contained in a “finding” — a device authorising clandestine action by the Central Intelligence Agency, NBC and CNN said, citing unidentified sources.
White House officials declined to comment, but did not specifically rule out the idea that Washington was providing more intelligence support to anti-Assad forces than had previously been made public.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a security forces raid southwest of Damascus killed 43 people, some of whom were tortured and executed.
“Regime forces entered the Jdaidet Artuz district on Wednesday and arrested around 100 young people who were taken to a school and tortured,” it said.
“On Thursday morning after the operation the bodies of 43 people were recovered. Some of them had been summarily executed.”
A resident of neighbouring Artuz said the army had shelled the village from Jdaidet Artuz.
“There’s nobody… Not one shop is open; the houses have been deserted by their inhabitants fearing violence — everyone has fled,” the resident said.
Nationwide, at least 67 people were killed on Thursday — 36 civilians, 16 soldiers and 15 rebels, said the Observatory, which has estimated that more than 20,000 people have died since mid-March last year.