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UN hears bleak assessment of Annan's Syria peace push

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N.-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan told the Security Council on Tuesday that peace in Syria remains elusive nearly a month after a nationwide truce was announced, while Washington declared it was stepping up "non-lethal" aid to the opposition.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva after briefing the 15-nation council via video link, Annan said there were "worrying episodes of violence by the government" in Syria as well as attacks by the opposition in violation of the truce. He also referred to a recent "spate of bombings, which have been really worrying."

He urged Damascus and the rebels to revive the truce that briefly took hold across the country on April 12.

"If you can do it for one day, why don't you do it for a week, a month, why don't you give peace a chance and give the people of Syria a break?" he said. "Why do they have to put up with this trauma?"

The comments from Annan, along with similar remarks from U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, were likely to increase doubts about Damascus' commitment to Annan's peace plan, which is aimed at ending a 14-month assault on opposition protesters calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

They were also likely to fuel fears among Western powers that Annan's plan has little chance of success.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said after the closed-door council meeting that "the Syrian government has not implemented fully any of the six points of the Annan plan."

"The situation in Syria remains dire, especially for the millions who continue to endure daily attacks and who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance," Rice said. "We are increasing our support to unify and strengthen the opposition through non-lethal assistance," Rice told reporters.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has said it is already giving the Syrian opposition logistical and communications help, but it has shied away from providing arms.

Rice reiterated that Washington was ready to consider other council measures, though Russia and China have made clear they would oppose U.N. sanctions on Damascus.

Annan's six-point peace plan called for an end to all fighting by the government and rebels, humanitarian access, the deployment of observers to monitor the truce, and dialogue between the government and opposition aimed at starting a "political transition" for the country.

Annan said the world cannot allow Syria to descend into full-scale civil war, warning that the consequences of the peace plan he brokered failing could be devastating.

"If it fails and it were to lead into a civil war, it will not affect only Syria, it will have an impact on the whole region," the former U.N. secretary-general said.

"We may well conclude down the line that it doesn't work and a different tack has to be taken," he said. "And that will be a very sad day for the region."

SYRIA DISPLAYS CD WITH 'CONFESSIONS'

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari was optimistic, though he said foreign spoilers were trying to undermine Annan and the U.N. observer mission.

"There is a positive trend on the ground," he told reporters. "However, we are still facing some Arab, regional and international powers who are deploying huge efforts in order to topple and undermine the mission of observers."

He held up a CD that he said contained 26 confessions from Arabs who were caught in Syria and had come from Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere through Turkey and Lebanon "to perpetrate terrorist acts in Syria." He added that another 15 foreign fighters had been killed by Syrian security forces.

Ja'afari urged Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to stop "their sponsorship of the armed rebellion."

Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin was relatively optimistic, noting that despite problems, U.N. observers are deploying and the overall situation there was improving.

"Things are moving on in a positive direction. Many obstacles, but I think they can be overcome," Churkin said.

Ladsous told the council that there has been a "noticeable reduction in the use of heavy weapons, a decline in the conduct of large scale military, but now more discreet military operations continue, large scale arrests," a U.N. envoy said.

"Syria still resorts to heavy weapons," the diplomat said, adding that Ladsous told the council there was still an "intrusive presence of Syrian security" in cities.

Annan said he was especially concerned human rights violations might be intensifying.

A U.N.-backed ceasefire was announced for April 12 as part of Annan's peace plan, along with the deployment of an unarmed U.N. observer force of up to 300 monitors. While there was an initial reduction in violence and U.N. observers have been gradually deploying, a full ceasefire has yet to take hold.

Annan also complained that there has been insufficient progress regarding humanitarian aid access to the 1 million Syrians in need of assistance.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Vicki Allen and Paul Simao)