US hit Syrian media with sanctions
Washington slapped economic sanctions on Monday on Syrian state broadcast media, saying they aid the Damascus regime in its campaign to put down a popular uprising
even as heavy fighting broke out overnight between armoured forces loyal to President Bashar Al Assad and rebels who launched coordinated attacks on army roadblocks across the city of Deraa on the border with Jordan.
An explosion hit an oil pipeline near the town of Quraiya in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Al Zor on Monday.
In New York, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said that Syria has approved a visit to the conflict-stricken country this week as UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan said that he will travel to Damascus on Saturday for what would be his first visit since he was named for the post last month.
In Cairo, the Arab League named Palestinian diplomat Nasser Al Qudwa to serve as Annan’s deputy in his role as international envoy to conflict-stricken Syria.
Arab League chief Nabil ElArabi said that Qudwa, a former foreign minister, had agreed to take on “this very difficult mission during a critical time for Syria.”
Qudwa was selected in consultation with UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Annan, who was named international troubleshooter to Syria on February 23, Arabi said in a statement.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hopes a meeting with Arab counterparts this week can bring the world closer to agreement on how to help end the bloodshed in Syria, but gave no sign Moscow would stop protecting President Bashar Al Assad.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Weimin said that China’s former ambassador to Damascus, Li Huaxin, would travel to Syria on Wednesday for meetings with the government and other parties.
The US Treasury said in a statement “The Syrian regime’s use of state entities to repress and attack civilians has imposed a devastating toll on the people of Syria. The United States has consistently stood against this abuse and has taken strong steps to target the regimes ability to act against the Syrian people.”
Following widespread UN and Security Council complaints about Assad’s refusal to let her in, Amos said she would arrive in Damascus on Wednesday and leave on Friday.
“The Syrian authorities have confirmed that I can visit Syria this week. I will arrive in Damascus on Wednesday March 7 and leave on Friday March 9,” Amos said in a statement.
“As requested by the secretary-general, my aim is to urge all parties to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief workers so that they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential supplies,” she added.
The United Nations is not yet sure whether Amos will be allowed to travel outside Damascus during her stay, her spokeswoman, Amanda Pitt said.
Troops kept the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) out of the wrecked Homs district of Baba Amr for a fourth day and foreign mediators sought to end year-long violence as more civilians fled to nearby Lebanon.
Braving army patrols and winter weather, hundreds of Syrians crossed into Lebanon in the last 24 hours to escape the heaviest shelling of their border towns since the uprising against Assad began last March.
In the hillside town of Arsal in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, residents said 100 to 150 families arrived from Syria on Sunday — one of the biggest refugee influxes so far. Families trekked on foot through snow-capped hills to safety, but many others were caught.
The state news agency Sana said the government welcomed Annan’s visit and had accepted one by UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who was denied entry to Syria last week.
Lavrov said everyone should aim to “influence all sides in Syria to stop shooting at each other, sit down for negotiations and start an inclusive national dialogue”.
“China still maintains that a political solution offers the fundamental escape from the Syrian crisis,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in Beijing.
Hundreds of troops fanned out in Deraa on a scale not seen for months following rebel attacks that were also unusually extensive, a resident said. At least one person was killed.
The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were still seeking approval from authorities to enter Baba Amr to help civilians there.