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Security Council calls on Syria end military crackdown

The U.N. Security Council today issued a statement calling on Syria to "implement urgently and visibly it commitments" to halt its military clampdown on opposition targets as special emissary Kofi Annan informed the U.N. General Assembly that Syrian "military operations in civilian population centers have not stopped."

The 15-nation council's demand was aimed at bolstering Annan's efforts to secure a cease-fire ending a bloody, year-long crackdown on anti-government protesters that has killed more than 9,000 people and halting the country's descent into all out civil war. It was also intended to press Syria to honor a 4-day old commitment to stop shelling residential areas, and withdraw its heavy weapons and troops from urban areas by April 10.

Annan, a former U.N. secretary general who is serving as the Syrian joint envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League, told the U.N. General Assembly that "clearly, the violence is still continuing" and that "alarming levels of casualties and other abuses continued to be reported daily." He urged states to use whatever influence they have on all sides in the conflict to stop the fighting and enter "Syrian-led" political talks that meet "the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people."

"We must silence the tanks, helicopters, mortars, guns and stop all other forms of violence too," Annan said in an address to U.N. General Assembly via a video-link from Geneva. "I am impatient for action on commitments made. I hope both the government and the opposition understand what is at stake and seize this moment. Let us stop the killing and start serious political dialogue, for the well-being of the Syrian people."

The General Assembly session underscored some of the underlying tensions between Syria and other key players at the U.N. over the course of diplomatic effort.

Before Annan spoke, Syria's U.N. envoy, Bashar al Jaafari, appealed to the U.N. General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar, to observe a minute of silence in honor of the Syrian victims of violence. The Qatari diplomat ignored the request and later had the U.N. webcast shut off when Jaafari began to deliver his statement. An official from the French mission to the United Nations, meanwhile, tweeted from the room: "Endless rant by Syrian Ambassador interrupted by President of the General Assembly."

A spokeswoman for the U.N. General Assembly president said that only the "informal" session with Annan, which included statements by the U.N. General Assembly president and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was intended to be broadcast.

"It was an informal session which typically would be entirely behind closed door, but because there were remarks by the president of the General Assembly and the secretary general, and the joint special envoy, those remarks were televised and after that the interjections by the member states were behind closed doors," added Martin Nesirky, the U.N.'s chief spokesman. "It's standard procedure."

The Security Council statement demands the Syrian government "implement urgently and visibly its commitments" to cease the use of heavy weapons against opposition elements, stop sending military forces into towns, and to "begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers" by April 10. It also calls on both the Syrian security forces and the armed opposition to "cease armed violence in all its forms" within 48 hours of the government completing its withdrawal from key towns.

The statement throws the Security Council's full weight behind Annan's six-point peace initiative and his plan to establish a small U.N. monitoring mission in Syria to monitor a possible cease-fire. "The UN Security Council underscores the importance of an effective and credible United Nations supervision mechanism in Syria to monitor the cessation of armed violence ... by all parties, the statement said.

Annan, meanwhile, said he is hopeful that a "full cessation of violence" could be in place soon and that he would need a "small and in nimble" monitoring mission with "freedom of movement throughout the country" to "establish and assess facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner." But he cautioned that U.N. blue berets would not be enough to stem the violence, saying "peace will not be consolidated without a credible political process."

Annan's six-point plan, which was endorsed by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, requires the government to implement a cease-fire, engage in political talks with the opposition, release political prisoners, provide access to journalist and humanitarian relief workers, and permit peaceful demonstrations.

Annan said that the Syrian government has informed him that it has taken some steps to this end, including the partial withdrawal of security forces from the towns of Idlbi, Zabadani, and Deraa. It has also informed Annan that it has recently issued visas to 21 journalists from the United States, Europe, Russia and Korea, and that it plans to release prisoners "within a few weeks." 

"But it is clear that more far-reaching action is urgently required," Annan said. "I await further steps and fuller information and comprehensive reports on all actions planned and taken."

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KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images