WRAPUP 5-Annan meets Assad again, says tough to reach deal

* Annan says Syria deal will be tough, but remains

optimistic

* Former UN chief heads for Qatar

* Syrian forces pursue drive against rebels in northwest

(Adds deaths on Sunday, paragraphs 13-15)

BEIRUT, March 11 (Reuters) - U.N.-Arab League envoy

Kofi Annan said it would be hard to reach a deal to halt

bloodshed in Syria, but expressed optimism after meeting

President Bashar al-Assad for a second day on Sunday.

"It's going to be tough. It's going to be difficult but we

have to have hope," he told reporters in Damascus.

"I am optimistic for several reasons," Annan said, citing a

general desire for peace in Syria. "The situation is so bad and

so dangerous that all of us cannot afford to fail."

The former United Nations chief, who is from Ghana, said:

"I have urged the president to heed the African proverb which

says: 'You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail'."

Annan, speaking before departing for Qatar, said he had left

"concrete proposals" with Assad for a way out of a conflict that

has cost thousands of lives.

"You have to start by stopping the killings and the misery

and the abuses that are going on today, and then give time (for

a) political settlement," he said.

There was no immediate word from Syrian officials on the

outcome of the talks, but Assad told Annan on Saturday that

"terrorists" spreading chaos and instability were blocking any

political solution, according to the state news agency SANA.

But it said the 46-year-old president had also told Annan he

would help in "any honest effort to find a solution".

Syrians involved in a popular uprising against Assad say

there can be no meaningful dialogue with a leader who has

inflicted such violence and suffering on his own people.

"Him (Assad) stepping down is definitely a first condition

of any discussion or negotiation," Bassma Kodmani of the

opposition Syrian National Council told the BBC on Sunday.

The United Nations says Assad's forces have killed more than

7,500 people in a year-long crackdown on protesters and

insurgents. Authorities say rebels have killed 2,000 soldiers.

Annan's mission has coincided with a Syrian military

offensive against opposition strongholds in the northwest.

Activists said at least four people were killed in the town

of Idlib on Sunday after troops and tanks moved in a day

earlier. Three soldiers and a civilian were also killed in

fighting in the village of Janoudiya in Idlib province on Sunday

morning, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

State news agency SANA said "terrorists" shot dead a former

boxing champion, Ghiath Tayfour, in the city of Aleppo and also

killed a leading Baath Party member in Homs province.

The Observatory said 39 civilians, including 25 in Idlib

province, were killed on Saturday, along with 39 rebels and 20

government soldiers, giving an overall death toll of 98.

ARABS CHIDE RUSSIA, CHINA

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met Annan in

Cairo on Friday, told the Arab League his country was "not

protecting any regime", but did not believe the Syrian crisis

could be blamed on one side alone.

He called for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid access, but

Qatar and Saudi Arabia sharply criticised Moscow's stance.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who

has led calls for Assad to be isolated and for Syrian rebels to

be armed, said a ceasefire was not enough. Syrian leaders must

be held to account and political prisoners freed, he declared.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said shortcomings in

the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have twice

vetoed resolutions on Syria, had allowed the killing to go on.

Their position, he said, "gave the Syrian regime a licence

to extend its brutal practices against the Syrian people".

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are both ruled by autocrats

and espouse a strict version of Sunni Islam, are improbable

champions of democracy in Syria. Riyadh has an interest in

seeing Assad fall because this could weaken its Shi'ite regional

rival Iran, which has been allied with Syria since 1980.

International rifts have paralysed action on Syria, with

Russia and China opposing Western and Arab calls for Assad, who

inherited power from his father nearly 12 years ago, to quit.

The United States has drafted a fresh U.N. Security Council

resolution, but Washington and Paris have said they are not

optimistic it will be accepted.

Despite their differences, Lavrov and Arab ministers said

they had agreed on the need for an end to violence in Syria.

They also called for unbiased monitoring of events there,

opposition to foreign intervention, delivery of humanitarian aid

and support for Annan's peace efforts.

But the exiled opposition Syrian National Council ruled out

talks while Assad is in power.

"Negotiations can never take place between the victim and

torturer: Assad and his entourage must step down as a condition

before starting any serious negotiations," it said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet Lavrov in

New York on Monday when the Security Council holds a special

meeting on Arab revolts, with Syria likely to be in focus.

(Additional reporting by Marwan Makdesi in Damascus and Peter

Griffiths in London; Writing by Alistair Lyon)

Most Popular in Middle East