Kofi Annan quits as international mediator on Syria amid failure to halt the violence ravaging the country since the start of the uprising to oust President Assad 17 months ago.
The resignation of Mr Annan as the UN-Arab League joint special envoy for Syria was announced by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, earlier today.
He will remain in the position until 31 August, when his mandate expires, Mr Ban said. Mr Annan will not renew it, he added, but will continue to offer his “wisdom and counsel”.
Mr Ban commented on the “thankless” nature of Mr Annan’s role in pleading for Syria to comply with his peace plan, alluding to the failure of the UN Security Council to establish a united position as a reason for his departure.
Russia and China have consistently blocked three Security Council resolutions intended to place pressure on President Assad to end the violence. Immediately after his resignation was announced, Moscow said it regretted his decision.
In Geneva, Mr Annan cited “finger-pointing and name-calling” in the 15-nation Security Council as a reason for his decision.
In a statement, Mr Ban said: “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.
“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.
“Tragically, the sprial of violence in Syria is continuing. The hand extended to turn away from violence in favour of dialogue and diplomacy – as spelled out in the Six-Point Plan – has not been not taken, even though it still remains the best hope for the people of Syria.
“Both the government and the opposition forces continue to demonstrate their determination to rely on ever-increasing violence. In addition, the persistent divisions within the Security Council have themselves become an obstacle to diplomacy, making the work of any mediator vastly more difficult.”
Mr Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky, told Channel 4 News that international pressure does remain on the Assad regime because the French, who currently hold the presidency of the security council, will maintain a focus on Syria while the full UN general assembly will also tomorrow discuss the violence there. However he conceded that “plainly this is not easy when the two sides continue to ramp up the violence.”
Syrian forces bombarded the city’s strategic Salaheddine district with tank and artillery fire, supported by combat aircraft. Rebels retaliated by turning the gun of a captured tank against government forces, shelling a military airbase used by war plans.
Rebels claimed that, despite a significant victory when they turned the gun on the Menakh airfield, 35km north of Aleppo, they subsequently retreated for strategic reasons.
In Damascus, President Assad’s troops were faced with fresh allegations of the execution of at least 35 men on Wednesday. “Almost all of them were executed with bullets to their face, head and neck in homes, gardens and basements,” one resident told Reuters.
But the slide into civil war is swiftly raising fears of a severe humanitarian crisis. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said up to three million Syrians are likely to require food and other aid in the next 12 months because the conflict has prevented farmers from harvesting their crops.
The Obama administration is giving $12m in new humanitarian aid for Syrian civilians, bringing total US humanitarian relief to $76m since the start of the 17-month uprising.
Mr Annan’s resignation comes on the day that the UN General Assembly were expected to vote on a resolution drafted by Saudia Arabia, a staunch ally of the rebels, including paying their wages, according to reports.
Russia again said it would not back the resolution, claiming the document was unbalanced and would encourage rebels to continue fighting the government.
However Russian UN Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, expressed his “regret” over Mr Annan’s decision, adding that he was encouraged by Mr Ban’s search for a successor. “We have supported very strongly Kofi Annan’s efforts,” he said. “He has another month to go, and I hope this month is going to be used as effectively as possible under these very difficult circumstances.”
Mr Annan’s departure was met with a mixed reaction from Syrian opposition activists. Obeida Nahas, a Syrian politician and member of the Syrian National Council, tweeted: “By resigning and asking for no further extension, Annan admits, at last, his mission has failed to stop killing of civilians in Syria.”