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Annan renews call for UN unity on Syria

Kofi Annan, UN-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisisKofi Annan, UN-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisis, has urged the UN Security Council to unify in support of his mediation efforts.

Annan's address to the 15-nation council on Friday came as mass anti-government protests continued across Syria to call for international military intervention in the country.

Activists said 15 people, including two children, were killed in violence across the country on Friday. The Syrian Revolution Co-ordination Union, an opposition activist network, said six people were killed in the Damascus suburbs, four in Hama, three in Homs, one in Deir al-Zor and one in al-Hassake.

Other activists said three people were shot dead in rare mass protests in the northern province of Raqqa. Activists are calling the day's demonstrations "The Friday for International Military Intervention".

Addressing a closed-door meeting of the 15-nation council, Annan appealed for the divided council to send a unified message to end the year-old military assault on protest cities that the UN estimates has left more than 8,000 dead.

"The stronger and more unified your message, the better chance we have of shifting the dynamics of the conflict," Annan was quoted as saying.

He said a UN team will visit Syria this weekend for talks with President Bashar Assad's government on proposals to end the bloodshed and allow in humanitarian aid.

"I hope they will have all the access that is necessary," he told journalists in Geneva after the briefing.

The former UN chief spoke to the council via video link from Geneva about his talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus last weekend and his contacts since with the government.

Annan said before the meeting he has made "concrete" proposals which the government has responded to, but he is now seeking more clarifications.

Fighting 'terrorists'

Syria's foreign ministry said on Friday the government would cooperate with Annan while at the same time fighting "terrorism".

"The Syrian government is determined to protect its citizens by disarming the terrorists and continues to search for a peaceful solution to the crisis by cooperating with special envoy Kofi Annan," it said in a letter addressed to the UN and carried by the state news agency SANA.

The result of the council meeting is expected to decide the next moves in efforts to pass a resolution condemning the violence.

Russia and China have vetoed two resolutions on Syria in the past six months, saying they were unbalanced.

The council has failed to pass a resolution in the year of the uprising and many UN officials now openly say the silence has cost lives by encouraging  Assad's government to believe it can act with impunity.

On Friday, Russia's envoy to the Middle East said statements from Western and Arab countries that Assad's rule is illegitimate are counterproductive to establishing peace in Syria.

"The Syrian people should determine who will lead their country and so the opinion of some of our foreign partners will hardly foster a solution," Mikhail Bogdanov, a deputy foreign minister, told a news conference.

'Buffer zone'

His comments came hours after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, said on his government was considering setting up a "security" or "buffer" zone along the border with Syria.

Erdogan called on Turkish citizens in Syria to return home and said the Turkish ambassador might be withdrawn from Damascus as soon as they do.

Such a buffer zone, under consideration for months, would allow refugees to leave and humanitarian supplies to enter, but could also become a safe haven and supply route for armed opposition fighters.

In recent weeks, the Syrian army has driven rebels out of the cities of Homs and Idlib. In the past two days, troops have assaulted Deraa, the southern birthplace of the year-old revolt, using machine guns and conducting house-to-house raids.

Still, the armed opposition, which calls itself the "Free Syrian Army," remains hard to crush, and elements have even established themselves in the Damascus suburbs, where they fought government troops on Thursday and Friday.

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