Syrian revolt simmers outside capital

Posted March 16, 2012, at 8:52 p.m.

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels ignited a new front Friday outside the capital, Damascus, in the first significant fighting there since regime forces swept over the suburbs weeks ago. The clashes highlight the shifting nature of Syria’s conflict, with rebels lying in wait to rise up when the regime turns its guns elsewhere.

The return of violence to the Damascus suburbs raises questions about how long troops can control areas before they re-erupt. Though government forces have shown they can crushed armed fighters, the regime has appeared unable to conduct major offensives in more than one place at once.

That points to the likelihood that a conflict that is now a year old and is estimated to have killed more than 8,000 could grind on as it slides closer to a civil war.

Diplomatic efforts have so far brought no result, but U.N. envoy Kofi Annan told the Security Council in a briefing Friday that he was determined to continue his mission and would return to Damascus. Talks last week between Annan and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus saw no progress in attempts to cobble together peace talks between the two sides.

After the confidential briefing via videolink, Annan told reporters in Geneva that he urged the council “to speak with one voice as we try to resolve the crisis in Syria.” Russia and China have blocked council action against Assad’s regime.

“The first objective is for all of us to end the violence and human rights abuses and the killings and get unimpeded access for humanitarian access to the needy, and of course the all-important issue of political process that will lead to a democratic Syria,” Annan said.

Both Assad and much of the opposition spurned Annan’s appeal for talks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow and Beijing were pressing Assad to cooperate and that other countries should do the same with the opposition, which he accused of stonewalling the U.N. mission. “Other Security Council members also need to do their part of the work and urge the opposition not to provoke the exacerbation of tensions,” he said.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said in a letter sent to the U.N. Security Council on Friday that Damascus will continue its crackdown. But the ministry also said it will cooperate with Kofi Annan, the envoy charged with trying to help end the violence in Syria.

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