The Syrian opposition reacted angrily on Friday to calls by international envoy Kofi Annan for dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad's government, saying he was "living on Mars".
Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy on Syria Photo: REUTERS
By Alex Spillius
On the eve of Mr Annan's arrival in Damascus today, activists reported a further 26 deaths across the country, including eight people killed by mortars fired by the army at protesters in Homs.
The deaths occurred less than 24 hours after Baroness Amos, the United Nation's chief humanitarian officer, was taken on a tour of the central city by officials that included Baba Amr, the rebel stronghold bombarded for 26 consecutive days before rebels and civilians fled.
Speaking in Turkey yesterday, Lady Amos said she had demanded unhindered access for humanitarian aid to victims of the turmoil, but
the Syrians only granted permission for a "limited assessment exercise by UN agencies and the Syrian authorities".
The UN is drawing up a plan to provide food and other relief to 1.5 million Syrians, but will be unable to act without the co-operation of Damascus.
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The Syrian government was stung by the defection of two Syrian generals, a colonel and two sergeants who fled to Turkey, a day after the deputy oil minister Abdo Hussameddin also deserted the regime after 33 years of service.
But Mr Assad continues to rely on the support of Russia and China at the UN Security Council, where Moscow is objecting to a new resolution that would demand full co-operation with aid agencies but remove all reference to a transition of power.
The Russians are said to be insisting on language that would assign equal responsibility for the violence to the Syrian security forces and their opponents, though the former have accounted for the vast majority of the estimated 7,000 lives lost during the year-long uprising.
Mr Annan, who has been appointed joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, is taking an approach that appears designed not to antagonise Mr Assad and the ruling elite.
He shocked regime opponents by suggesting they should seek a political settlement and speaking strongly against outside military assistance.
Burhan Ghalioun, president of the Syrian National Council, the main exiled opposition group, said: "These kind of comments are disappointing and do not give a lot of hope for people in Syria being massacred every day. It feels like we are watching the same movie being repeated over and over again."
He added: "Any political solution will not succeed if it is not accompanied by military pressure on the regime."
Activists inside Syria also rejected Mr Annan's call for dialogue.
"It seems he lives on Mars," said Mohammad Saeed, from the Damascus suburb of Douma. "We can't hear each other even if we wanted to. What dialogue are they talking about?"
The SNC has however frustrated Western officials and analysts for failing to present ideas for breaking the stalemate that does not include external military aid, which overseas powers have so far rejected.