Syria: Kofi Annan arrives in Damascus on peace mission

Amid mounting criticism of his mission, Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general arrived in Damascus on Saturday to advance his peace initiative even as government forces widened an offensive on the city of Homs.

Mr Annan, the special envoy to Syria for both the United Nations and the Arab League, was scheduled to meet Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, within hours of his arrival.
The veteran Ghanaian diplomat has faced growing anger from the Syrian opposition by insisting that he would urge both sides in the conflict to seek peaceful compromises, a position closer to Russian rather than Western policy.
More than 70 civilians were killed on the eve of Mr Annan's arrival, according to Syrian human rights activists, as pro-regime forces mounted offensives in both Homs and the province of Idlib, two of the most restive parts of the country.
Just two days after Baroness Amos, the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator, visited Homs, Mr Assad's army and allied militiamen carried out attacks on four of its districts in an attempt to regain total control of the city.
At least 30 people were killed, according to the London based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, among them nine civilians, one of them a child, who had taken shelter in a mosque.
Satellite images of mosques, schools, playgrounds and a hospital, destroyed or badly damaged by artillery, are an indication of the ferocity of recent regime attacks, US intelligence officials were quoted as saying.
Having captured the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr, which held out against 26 consecutive days of bombardment, Syrian government forces have turned their attention to four other anti-Assad districts - Khalidiya, Deir Baalba, Ashira and Karm al-Zaytoon.
With the bulk of rebel forces having fled the city, the operation is on a smaller scale than the offensive against Baba Amr, where hundreds died. Activists say, however, the situation remains both deadly and desperate.
"Families in Homs are trying to support each other by sharing their food supplies, but there is not enough food and the continued siege and bombardment have prevented any supplies from entering the city," an activist affiliated to the human rights group Avaaz said.
"Water supplies, communications and internet continue to be cut off completely in the city. There's also no electricity for most parts of the day."
Lady Amos, who described witnessing horrific destruction in Baba Amr, has demanded unhindered access for humanitarian aid to victims of the turmoil.
But Mr Assad has so far only granted permission for a "limited assessment exercise by UN agencies and the Syrian authorities."
Given the continuing violence and the regime's unwillingness to cooperate even on humanitarian issues, the Syrian opposition poured scorn on Mr Annan's calls for dialogue with the Assad government, saying he was "living on Mars".
"These kinds of comments are disappointing and do not give a lot of hope for people in Syria being massacred every day," Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, told the Associated Press.
"It feels like we are watching the same movie over and over again," he said, dismissing Mr Annan's initiative as "pointless".