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Arab League Envoy Annan To Visit Syria on March 10


UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan
The Arab League says that Kofi Annan, the international community's special envoy to Syria, is due to travel to Damascus on March 10.

Annan, a former UN secretary-general, was appointed last month as joint special UN and Arab League envoy on the Syria crisis.

The Arab League said in a statement that Nasser al-Kidwa, a Palestinian diplomat appointed as deputy to Annan, will travel with him.

Also on March 5, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Syria had agreed to allow her to visit the country after initially refusing to let her in.

Amos said she will travel to Damascus on March 7 for a two-day visit. It was unclear whether Amos will be allowed to travel outside the Syrian capital.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, speaking at a news conference in Prague, urged the UN Security Council to act on the situation in Syria. She also urged Russia's president-elect, Vladimir Putin, to change Moscow's position toward Syria.

"It is critical to have the [UN] Security Council act on the tragedy that is unfolding in Syria," Ashton said. "And I hope that the discussions that the foreign minister of Russia has had today with the Jordanian foreign minister -- I hope that the meeting I understand will take place between Russia and the Arab League shortly -- that these will be opportunities for the newly elected president of Russia to be able to push forward on Syria in a collegial way with the rest of the international community."

Ashton also urged the international community to do more to bring "desperately needed" humanitarian aid into Syria's opposition strongpoint of Homs, which has been subjected to a brutal siege for weeks by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The United Nations says more than 7,500 people have been killed in an almost yearlong crackdown on demonstrators against Assad's regime.

Also on March 5, the United States imposed economic sanctions on Syrian state broadcast media, saying they aid the Damascus regime in its campaign to put down the popular uprising.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona) has called on the United States to lead an international campaign of air strikes aimed at disabling forces loyal to Assad.

McCain accused the Syrian government of war crimes for its brutal crackdown and said the United States has a moral and strategic obligation to force out Assad and his loyalists.

With AFP, AP, and Reuters reporting, and contributions from Ron Synovitz in Prague

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