The uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has turned one year old, making it one of the longest, deadliest and most sustained revolts in the Arab Spring. The world remains divided on how to end the violence.
Syria marks the one-year anniversary on Thursday of the beginning of the popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, as diplomatic efforts appear to be making little progress toward ending the violence.
Government forces have been bombarding rebel strongholds across Syria this week, emboldened by inaction at the United Nations Security Council to condemn the Assad regime for its brutal crackdown on the uprising. Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions seeking to end the violence.
Anti-Assad activists in Damascus reported several explosions early in the morning on Thursday, followed by gunfire. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a car exploded in the central district of Barzeh, and that emergency services were able to extinguish the fire. There was no word on casualties.
In an attempt to further isolate the Syrian government, the Netherlands said it would close its embassy in Damascus "because of the worsening security conditions and to send a political sign to Syria."
"The shutdown is an expression of the revulsion we feel in the face of the appalling violence of the Syrian government," Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said in a statement.
Annan to report to Security Council
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Syria over the weekend on behalf of the UN and the Arab League in order to propose a solution to the crisis, which the UN estimates has killed 8,000 people, mostly civilians. Annan is due to report back to the Security Council on Friday.
In a sign of how far apart Russia was diplomatically with Western and Arab nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday said that Moscow was supplying Syria's government with weapons.
"We are selling weapons to Syria for its national defense, national security," Lavrov told lawmakers in the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma. He added that Russia was not "providing Syria with any weapons that could be used against protesters, against peaceful citizens, helping fuel the conflict," and that Moscow's only goal was help "protect (Syria's) security against external threats."
Rather than sanctions or the threat of military action, Russia has pushed for a less punitive, more diplomatic approach to Syria, urging Assad to enact democratic reforms demanded by the protesters.
President Assad has called for new parliamentary elections on May 7, which the West, Arab nations and Syrian opposition groups have dismissed as a sham. Assad has repeatedly blamed the unrest in the country on armed terrorist groups.
acb/ccp (AFP, Reuters)