(CBS News) DAMASCUS - United Nations emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos said Thursday in Damascus that the humanitarian impact of Syria's civil war had more than doubled in four months, and that the spiraling violence was blocking the flow of aid to some 2.5 million people in need.
"The U.N. and its partners are reaching more people with emergency aid every month, but we are only meeting some of the needs. It's not enough," Amos told reporters in the Syrian capital, adding that "insecurity and restrictions are part of the problem."
Amos did not blame either President Bashar Assad's regime, or the rebels it is fighting for the deterioration of the situation, but she said the 18-month old crisis "has become more intense and is too often indiscriminate. All parties must do more to protect civilians. The humanitarian situation has worsened since I was here in March."
"Over a million people have been uprooted and face destitution. Perhaps a million more have urgent humanitarian needs due to the widening impact of the crisis on the economy and people's livelihoods," said Amos. "In March, we estimated that a million people were in need of help. Now as many as 2.5 million are in need of assistance and we are working to update our plans and our funding requirements."Continue »
(CBS News) DAMASCUS, Syria - Amid a shaky truce and calls from the opposition to boycott the vote, Syrians headed to the polls Monday to cast ballots in the first multi-party parliamentary elections in five years, as President Bashar Assad's government sought to show it is providing space for a nascent political opposition in the restive country where thousands have been killed in a 13-month uprising.
The leading opposition group dismissed Monday's vote as a sham - an attempt by an obstinate Assad to prolong his rule - which they say will likely be rigged heavily in his Baath party's favor. Opposition activists said they would observe a general strike and themselves boycott the voting.
In spite of cries that any vote carried out under the threat of violence cannot be legitimate, polling booths opened for what will be the latest step in a process of limited political reform heralded by President Assad in response to the uprising, which began as a series of peaceful protests but quickly descended into violence in the face of a brutal assault on opposition strongholds by his forces.
Many opposition figures and groups insist no reform measures can be accepted until Assad himself steps down from power. Assad, and his father before him, have ruled Syria since 1963.
In the first serious challenge to that rule, the uprising has increasingly turned into a militarized campaign to topple Assad - with tacit backing from the U.S. and much more material support from nations on his own doorstep.Continue »
Major-General Robert Mood takes over a mission that faces major obstacles before the full 300-member force approved by the U.N. Security Council has even gathered. The unrest has killed more than 9,000 people since March of last year, according to UN figures.
The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an opposition activist network, reported the deaths of 31 people on Saturday, including three children, amid anti-government protests across the country.
The observers departed for Syria shortly after the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to authorize the mission.
The observers' aim is to monitor and help maintain the still-shaky cease-fire between the government of President Bashar Al-Assad and armed opposition fighters.
The unarmed military team, headed by an Indian general, is expected to be on the ground in blue helmets as early as tomorrow. They will be augmented by additional personnel on Monday, and 25 to 30 more observers in the coming days, according to U.N. spokesman Khaled Massri.
Assuming the cease-fire holds, the 15-nation council will be asked to approve a full mission of about 250 observers, based on a report by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon next week.
Syrian officials welcomed the arrival of the "technical" team, and said Damascus was committed to the U.N. plan, which calls for the government to ensure unimpeded freedom of movement for the observers and the ability to interview anyone they want to in private, in addition to unimpeded access for humanitarian workers.
Last Updated 9:12 a.m. ET
(CBS News) DAMASCUS, Syria - U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan held a second round of talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Sunday in hopes of securing an encouraging response to his high-profile mission: To arrange a national political dialogue between the government and the opposition and gain unfettered access for humanitarian aid agencies.
Annan appeared to make little headway in his first round of talks with Assad on Saturday, when the Syrian president said rejected any political dialogue as long as "terrorist" groups would continue to try to destabilize the country.
According to a U.N. official in Damascus who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity, Annan ended his talks Sunday with strong hopes he managed to make an advance in solving Syria's year-long crisis. "He ended very candid, positive talks with Assad, and he feels very optimistic that he is making a breakthrough," the U.N. source told CBS News.
The official said Annan will head to Qatar, Cairo and New York before returning "pretty soon" to Damascus.
Meanwhile, opposition groups have dismissed the offer for dialogue while the Syrian military continues its offensive in the north. Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council, the most prominent opposition group in exile, said Friday that calls for dialogue were "naive."
Syrian forces continued to shell opposition strongholds in Homs, while fierce fighting was reported in the north Syrian town of Idlib on Saturday, where fighters from the Free Syrian Army were trying to hold back government troops.
Sixteen rebel fighters, seven soldiers and four civilians were killed in the Idlib fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said 15 other people, including three soldiers, had been killed in violence elsewhere.
With the bloody turbulence sweeping almost half the country for nearly a year, talk of increasing rates of random crimes and murder have surfaced over the past few months, attributed to a lack of police forces on the ground capable of controlling the situation, particularly in areas where clashes could erupt between Army units and gunmen.
There have been wide talks about crimes against people, sometimes for personal revenge, exploiting the state of anarchy and disorder in some rural areas. In such cases, especially in the countryside, even if the family of a victim reports to a police station, police might find themselves incapable of doing anything to bring the killer to justice without the support of Army units and soldiers.
Syria's new constitution, which would put an end to five decades of one-party rule, won overwhelming approval of some 89 percent of participants in Sunday's referendum, Syria's interior minister said on Monday.
Ibrahim al-Shaar said in a press conference that the turnout in the country was 57.4 percent. The constitutional reforms, which include 14 new and 47 amended articles, were put forward by President Bashar Assad in an effort to stop the bloody uprising and pave the way for free elections in the country.
Amendments to Syria's constitution were a key demand by the opposition at the beginning of the country's protests against the Assad regime. But in the wake of the military's deadly assault on dissidents, which has been condemned by the U.S. and Syria's Arab League neighbors, many opposition leaders have demanded nothing less than Assad's departure.
The ballot measure read simply, "Do you agree on the new draft constitution?" Of the more than 8 million Syrians who voted, 9 percent voted no, al-Shaar said.Continue »
The Interior Ministry said 11,185 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. and would keep receiving people to 7 p.m., adding the process could be extended until 10 p.m. in case of a big turnout.
Almost 14,4 million eligible voters (those over 18) - including police, the Army and security forces - can cast their "yes" or "no" ballots in this plebiscite. Stations opened also at state establishments to enable employees to take part, along with polling centers at airports and border crossing points.
Assad himself, and his wife, cast their votes earlier in the day in the state-run TV center, nearby the Omayad square, where a large crowd turned out and shouted slogans in his support, calling him to continue the path of reform.
The first results of the referendum could be announced as early as Monday, according to Syrian sources.
The 157-article proposed charter would drop Article 8 of the Syrian Constitution, which declares the ruling Ba'ath Party as the "leader of the state and society."
Under the new constitution, authored by a 29-member Constitutional Committee, other parties would have the "right" to name their own candidates for the presidency, which would be set at a maximum of two consecutive seven-year terms.
Syrians will vote next in a nationwide "yes or no" referendum on a new draft constitution that could effectively end five decades of single-party rule, but the opposition is calling on Syrians to boycott the plebiscite and there is little hope from the international community that it can bring peace.
More than 14 million eligible voters from Syria's total population of 24 million are invited to cast their ballots at 835 polling stations across the nation.
The polls are set to open at 7 a.m. on Sunday, but after almost a year of intense violence and bloodshed across the country, it's hard to see how such an unprecedented ballot could possibly be carried out effectively on the given timescale.Continue »
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun urged all Syrians to immediately stop the violence and told Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad that Beijing backs plans for a referendum leading to parliamentary elections as a way to resolve the Syrian crisis.
The Chinese envoy, who arrived Friday night for a two-day trip, wanted to step up diplomatic efforts for ending the 11-month violence in Syria, two weeks after his country drew global condemnation when it vetoed a resolution that backed an Arab plan urging Assad to quit.
"We hope that the referendum on the constitution and the parliamentary elections take place in a continuous way," Jun said, following his talks with Assad.
"China's stance is embodied in calling the government, the opposition and the armed groups to immediately stop acts of violence," he said, according to Syrian state television.Continue »
Before leaving Thursday, Zhai Jun said his country does not approve of armed intervention to force regime change in Syria, adding that his two-day trip was intended to end the violence in "peaceful" ways.
The visit comes only days after Beijing said the United Nations should tread carefully in the strife-torn country or risk worsening violence in the government's crackdown on opposition groups.
"He will exchange views with the Syrian government and parties concerned in Syria on the current ... situation to push for a peaceful and proper resolution" of the crisis, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin told a regular briefing on Wednesday.
He added that the Chinese will play "a constructive role in mediation."
Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday approved a draft for a new constitution that would end his ruling Baath party's monopoly on power in the fraught nation and open the door for all political parties to compete.
In announcement carried on state-run television aimed at quelling an 11-month uprising which has posed the greatest threat to his family's rule in decades, Assad declared that a national referendum on the draft would be held on Feb. 26.
Presidential sources say Assad, who met this week with the newly-established 29-member constitutional charter committee, "wanted the people to have their say on this move, the first step on a democratic Syria," with a simple "yes-no" vote.
(CBS) DAMASCUS - Syria lashed out at the Arab League on Monday over the group's new proposed plan to end 10 months of violent unrest in the country, which calls for President Bashar Assad to transfer power to his deputy and a national unity government within two months. Syria's government also remained silent on whether it will agree to extend a month-long monitoring mission by Arab League observers.
"Syria rejects the decisions taken by the ministerial committee of the Arab League, which are outside an Arab working plan and the signed protocol, and considers them a violation of its national sovereignty, a flagrant interference in internal affairs and a brazen infringement of Arab League charters," an official source said, according to the state-controlled media.
"Syria confirms its condemnation to these resolutions which came in the framework of the conspiratorial plot targeted against," the statement said.
Arab League foreign ministers meeting Sunday in Cairo asked the United Nations to support the new plan, aimed at resolving the crisis in Syria by forming a unity government within two weeks, which can then lead the country through a transitional period culminating with elections and a new constitution written.
(CBS) DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed Tuesday not to bow to "intervention" from what he deemed an "external conspiracy," and offered in his fourth speech since the beginning of serious unrest 10 months ago a path for reform that will likely fail to stop protests across the country or bring an end to the violence which the United Nations says has left more than 5,000 people dead.
"External conspiracy which is being tailored in dark rooms is no longer hidden but now has become crystal clear and visible to anyone," Assad said in a speech to the nation which saw him lash out at the Western media and scorn the Arab League as an ineffective organization which has chosen to side with Israel rather than Syria.
"Fog has dispersed and all masks have fallen. It is no longer possible for regional and international sides to deform facts through which they wanted to destabilize Syria. I would say, damn you," Assad told his nation from a university in Damascus.Continue »
The opposition has already urged demonstrators via a Facebook page to "creep and crawl" into the main squares in the country "immediately after Friday's prayers," particularly in cities and neighborhoods where the observers are expected to visit.
"On Friday, we will march to the squares of freedom, bare-chested, carrying olive branches only, although we are sure we will be confronted by regime's gun fire," activists said.
The presence of monitors should "motivate" Syrians to take to the streets in large numbers and camp out in squares despite "foreseeable violence," protest organizers said.
- no previous page