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Syria: Kofi Annan steps down (+video)

Citing the Syrian government's intractability, increasing violence and the international community's lack of consensus, former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan announced his resignation. He says there is still a chance for Syria to avoid the worst, 'if the international community can show the courage and leadership necessary.'  

By Patrick J. McDonnellLos Angeles Times (MCT) / August 2, 2012

In this Saturday, June 30, file photo, Kofi Annan, joint special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League for Syria, speaks during a news conference at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. On Thursday, Aug. 2, Annan said he is quitting as special envoy to Syria, effective Aug. 31.

Martial Trezzini/Keystone/AP/File

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BEIRUT

The resignation of Kofi Annan, the point man for international efforts to bring peace to Syria, emphatically confirmed what events on the ground had already been making clear: The country’s fate is far more likely to be decided by force than by negotiations.

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Annan described his position as a mediator to Syria as 'impossible' and blamed 'finger pointing' inside the UN for his decision to step down.

The former U.N. secretary-general’s announcement Thursday that he was ending his attempt to negotiate an end to the conflict came amid a sharp increase in fighting that began after a bomb killed four top security aides to President Bashar Assad last month.

While government forces subsequently pushed insurgent bands out of the capital, Damascus, they are now locked in what could be a decisive battle for the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub and most populous urban center.

IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria

“Most people have concluded that this is not going to be settled by talk at the U.N., but by developments on the ground,” said Robert Malley, a former Clinton administration official now with the International Crisis Group think tank.

In comments to reporters Thursday, Annan voiced an opinion he had never before uttered publicly — that, as part of the solution he had been seeking for Syria, Assad would have to go.

“The transition meant President Assad would have to leave sooner or later,” Annan said in Geneva.

He cited the Syrian government’s “intransigence” and the opposition’s “escalating military campaign” as major impediments to his peace efforts, along with a lack of unity in the international community on how to deal with the crisis.

The conflict in Syria, analysts say, has already moved into a new phase that in some ways resembles 1980s Afghanistan, a kind of proxy war for foreign interests in which Western-backed guerrillas are fighting to topple an ally of Moscow.

While the Kremlin does not have troops in Syria, as it did in Afghanistan, Assad received diplomatic cover from Russia, a long-time ally. And Assad also maintains the backing of Iran, a neighbor and regional power.

The Obama administration this week reportedly signed off on clandestine action by the CIA on behalf of the Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow Assad. The White House has also agreed to bolster “non lethal” aid to the opposition and make it easier for outside groups to aid the rebels.

The United States and its allies are providing increasing amounts of aid to a highly decentralized rebel force that has a substantial Islamist element — including some admitted sympathizers with al-Qaida.

Washington has said it is not supplying arms to the rebels. That task appears to have been outsourced to allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Those Gulf monarchies, dominated by Sunni Muslims, are intent on helping Syria’s Sunni majority overthrow Assad’s government, which is dominated by the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The departure of Annan, who served since late February as the U.N. and Arab League peace envoy to Syria, would seem to signal the unraveling of his six-point peace plan. Inside Syria, both sides in the conflict have long ignored Annan’s blueprint, which, among other things, called for the withdrawal of troops and armor from populated areas.

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