Geneva

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GENEVA (AP) — A Zurich-based foundation says it will prove to the world Thursday that Leonardo Da Vinci painted an earlier version of the Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa Foundation, which has been working with the anonymous owners of the “Isleworth Mona Lisa,” says that after 35 years of research, experts believe it predates the famed 16th-century masterpiece by about a decade.

The Isleworth painting — likewise a portrait of a young woman with an enigmatic smile — is slightly larger, was painted on canvas and has brighter colors than the famed Louvre Museum masterpiece painted on wood.

The group is presenting its findings to reporters Thursday in Geneva.

An accompanying book to be released by the foundation says the Isleworth Mona Lisa — which was in storage for decades — drew news headlines in the early 20th century.

Printed on Thursday, September 27, 2012 as: Group says Da Vinci painted earlier work

Lebanese anti-Syrian regime protestors carry the Syrian revolutionary flag at Martyr's Square in Beirut, Lebanon, last month.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syria’s opposition called for widespread protests Friday to test the regime’s commitment to an internationally brokered cease-fire that the U.N. chief described as so fragile it could collapse with a single gunshot.

Regime forces halted heavy shelling and other major attacks in line with the truce that began at dawn Thursday, though there were accusations of scattered violence by both sides. The government ignored demands to pull troops back to barracks, however, defying a key aspect of the plan, which aims to calm a year-old uprising that has killed 9,000 people and has pushed the country toward civil war.

“The onus is on the government of Syria to prove that their words will be matched by their deeds at this time,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Geneva. He said the world was watching with skeptical eyes.

“This cease-fire process is very fragile. It may be broken any time,” Ban added, saying “another gunshot” could doom the truce.

The presence of tanks and troops could discourage any large gatherings, but the leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, urged Syrians to demonstrate peacefully on Friday. “Tomorrow, like every Friday, the Syrian people are called to demonstrate even more and put the regime in front of its responsibilities — put the international community in front of its responsibilities.”

A massive protest would be an important test of the cease-fire — whether President Bashar Assad will allow his forces to hold their fire and risk ushering in a weekslong sit-in or losing control over territory that government forces recently recovered from rebels.

So far, the military crackdown has prevented protesters from recreating the powerful displays of dissent seen in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

If the truce holds, it would be the first time the regime has observed an internationally brokered cease-fire since Assad’s regime launched a brutal crackdown 13 months ago.

“The test will come when we start to see protests across the length and breadth of the country,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center. “Is the Assad regime willing to accept that there will likely be hundreds of thousands of people on the streets in the next few days? And will they accept those protesters, if they are not breaking any laws, occupying certain spaces and towns and centers of towns, should that start to arise?”

An outbreak of violence at a chaotic rally could give the regime a pretext for ending the truce. And it would be difficult to determine the source of such an attack, given that Syria is largely sealed off from journalists and outside observers.

The U.N. chief’s envoy, Kofi Annan, urged the 15-nation U.N. Security Council to authorize an observer mission that would keep the cease-fire going and to demand that Assad order his troops back to barracks, U.N. diplomats said. The council could adopt a resolution on the observers as early as Friday, the diplomats said on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

Western powers, skeptical that Assad will call off the killings, said an end to violence is just the first step.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron urged Syria’s allies Russia and China to help “tighten the noose” around Assad’s regime. Russia and China have blocked strong action against Syria at the Security Council, fearing it would open the door to possible NATO airstrikes like those that helped topple Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that Assad failed to comply with key obligations, such as pulling back tanks.

“The burden of fully and visibly meeting all of these obligations continues to rest with the regime,” she said. “They cannot pick and choose. For it to be meaningful, this apparent halt in violence must lead to a credible political process and a peaceful, inclusive democratic transition.”

The U.S. Embassy in Damascus published an image on its Facebook page that purports to show tanks deployed within the city of Homs.

“Clearly, Assad is not complying,” the embassy said.

Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council, said a heavy security presence, including checkpoints and snipers, remained in the streets despite the cease-fire.

“There is no evidence of any significant withdrawal,” she told reporters in Geneva. “The real test for us today is if people can go and demonstrate peacefully” she added. “This is the real reality check.”

But analysts said the apparent halt in government attacks suggests Assad’s allies are pressuring him for the first time, after shielding him from international condemnation in the past. Annan has visited Russia, Iran and China to get the broadest possible backing for the plan.

On Thursday, the Russian and Chinese ambassadors called the Syrian cease-fire an important step and said they supported implementation of all points in the Annan plan — including the troop and equipment withdrawal.

“We’re encouraged that we do now have a cessation of violence in Syria,” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said. “We hope it holds. Everybody needs to behave with maximum prudence for that to happen.”

“Frankly, there is one thing which Mr. Annan, I hope, is going to accomplish very soon — clear-cut agreement by opposition leaders to enter into dialogue with the Syrian government,” Churkin added. “This so far has not happened.”

There were signs of how easily the Annan plan could fray.

In the hours after the 6 a.m. deadline, at least four civilians were reported killed — three of them by sniper fire — and the state-run news agency said “terrorist groups” set off a roadside bomb that killed a soldier. But there was no sign of the heavy shelling, rocket attacks and sniper fire that have become routine.

Troops also intensified searches at checkpoints, tightening controls ahead of possible large-scale protests Friday.

Although Syria promised to comply with the cease-fire, the regime carved out an important condition — that it still has a right to defend itself against the terrorists that it says are behind the rebellion.

The government denies that it is facing a popular uprising. Instead, the regime says, terrorists are carrying out a foreign conspiracy to destroy Syria. Because the regime has treated any sign of dissent as a provocation, many observers fear that an abrupt end to the bloodshed will be all but impossible.

In the early days of the Syrian rebellion, Syrian forces used tanks, snipers and machine guns on peaceful protesters, driving many of them to take up arms. Since then, the uprising has transformed into an armed insurgency, with more and more protesters taking up arms and rebels forming a fighting force to bring down the regime.

The rebel Free Syrian Army, made up largely of army defectors, has said it will observe the cease-fire. But the opposition is not well-organized, and there are growing fears of groups looking to exploit the chaos.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have called for arming the rebels, but even if they follow through there is no guarantee that such efforts could cripple Assad’s well-armed regime.

Western powers have pinned their hopes on Annan’s plan, in part because they are running out of options. NATO-style military intervention has been all but ruled out, in part because the conflict is so explosive. Syria has had a web of allegiances to powerful forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Shiite powerhouse Iran, and conflict could spark a regional conflagration.

With Thursday’s relative ease in violence, many see a U.N. observer team as a key next step.

“It is difficult to fully assess the situation on the ground, in the absence of U.N. observers,” Ban told reporters. “And therefore we are working with the Security Council to send an observer team as promptly as possible.”

___

Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Frank Jordans and John Heilprin in Geneva, Matthew Lee in Washington, Jamey Keaten in Paris and Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
 

Printed on Friday, April 13, 2012 as: Syrians call for anti-Assad protests during truce

This satellite image, taken last Wednesday, shows a pipeline fire in Homs, Syria. The pipeline, which runs through a rebel-held neighborhood, had been shelled by regime troops for the previous 12 days, according to two activist groups. The state news agency, SANA, blamed “armed terrorists” for the attack.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Medics stitch wounds with thread used for clothing. Hungry residents risk Syrian government sniper fire or shelling to hunt for dwindling supplies of bread and canned food on the streets of the besieged city of Homs.

The opposition stronghold was being destroyed “inch by inch,” by government forces, with collapsed walls and scorched buildings, according to accounts Thursday, while Western and Arab leaders hoped to silence the guns long enough to rush in relief aid.

The pressure for “humanitarian corridors” into the central Syrian city of Homs and other places caught in President Bashar Assad’s crushing attacks appeared to be part of shifts toward more aggressive steps against his regime after nearly a year of bloodshed and thousands of deaths in an anti-government uprising.

In back-to-back announcements, U.N.-appointed investigators in Geneva said a list for possible crimes against humanity prosecution reaches as high as Assad, and international envoys in London made final touches to an expected demand for Assad to call a cease-fire within days to permit emergency shipments of food
and medicine.

Washington and European allies remain publicly opposed to direct military intervention. But there have been growing signs that Western leaders could back efforts to open channels for supplies and weapons to the Syrian opposition, which includes breakaway soldiers.

In a sign of the international divide, however, key Assad ally Russia said Moscow and Beijing remain opposed to any foreign interference in Syria. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke by telephone with the president of the United Arab Emirates and emphasized that “foreign interference, attempts to assess the legitimacy of the leadership of a state from the outside, run counter to the norms of international law and are fraught with the threat of regional and global destabilization,” the Kremlin said.

“It is a deeply frustrating situation,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC radio ahead of the London talks. He said that the Assad regime “has continued to act seemingly with impunity.”

At least 16 people were killed across Syria, activists said. One group, the Local Coordination Committees, put the number at 40 with attacks ranging from mountain villages to areas near the capital of Damascus. The reason for the differing tolls was not immediately clear.

The most intense offensive, however, remained on beleaguered Homs, Syria’s third-largest city. Its defiance — amid hundreds of civilian casualties in the past weeks — has eroded Assad’s narrative that the uprising is the work of “armed thugs” and foreign plots.

Images posted online and accounts from activists and correspondents smuggled in — including two Western journalists killed Wednesday — also have stirred comparisons to sieges such as Misrata during last year’s Arab Spring revolt in Libya.

The epicenter — the Baba Amr neighborhood on the city’s southeast corner — is a collection of slum-like apartment blocks with peeling paint and neglected older homes. They draw in workers and fortune-seekers from across Syria to a place known as the “mother of the poor” because of its cheaper cost of living, compared with Damascus or Aleppo.

“They are blanketing Baba Amr with shells and snipers. They are destroying it street by street, inch by inch,” said activist Omar Shaker.

Residents say 70 percent of the area is now inhabitable in harsh winter weather with temperatures dipping close to freezing some nights. Walls have collapsed; windows are shattered from shells that fall as much as two-a-minute during some of the heaviest barrages.

Another Homs activist, Mulham al-Jundi, called the conditions “catastrophic” in parts of the city, spreading over a valley in central Syria just 18 miles from the Lebanese border. Long lines form at even rumors of bread, cans of food or fuel for heaters, he said.

“There simply isn’t enough to go around anymore,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syria’s state-run media pushed back with its own version: Running photos on the official news agency SANA that claim to show markets full of food in Homs. It called the claims about food shortages “fabricating lies.”

Activists give a very different view. Bodies are buried wherever people can find space, they say. The wounded are too scared to try to reach government-controlled hospitals in other parts of the city. Instead, they stagger into makeshift clinics in kitchens and offices, al-Jundi said.

He said clothing thread is now used after surgical sutures ran out. In some places, medics conduct operations by only the light of an office lamp. In the Bab Drieb neighborhood, volunteers get a crash course in basic first aid before being put to work.

“I saw a nurse teaching a couple of people what to do. They had no idea,” said al-Jundi. “It’s unbelievable and tragic.”

Homs — which is mostly Sunni — was an early flashpoint of dissent against Assad’s regime, which is led by the minority Alawite community, which has Shiite power Iran as its main patron.

In April, protesters gathered at the central Clock Square in Homs, bringing mattresses, food and water in hopes of emulating Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution. Homs had a reputation for tolerance between Syria’s religions and Muslim sects, said Mohammad Saleh, an opposition figure who fled the city, but Sunnis have increasingly felt pushed into an underclass status by Assad.

A Western intelligence official said the Syrian military has the ability to “level Homs if it wanted to.” But the risks of backlash from Syria’s majority Sunnis — including many military officers — is far too great , said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under briefing rules. On Wednesday, shelling of Baba Amr killed American-born veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

They were among a group of journalists who had crossed into Syria illegally and were sharing accommodations with activists, raising speculation that government forces targeted the makeshift media center where they were staying. But opposition groups had previously described the shelling as indiscriminate. At least two other Western journalists were wounded on Wednesday.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman offered condolences to the families of Colvin and Ochlik, but rejected any responsibility for their deaths. The spokesman urged foreign journalists to respect Syrian laws and not to sneak into the country.

Some Syrians held protests and vigils Wednesday night to honor Colvin and Ochlik.

“Remi Ochlik, Marie Colvin, we will not forget you,” read one banner held by protesters in the town of Qsour in Homs province.

Two other journalists were wounded. In a video posted on YouTube, one of those injured, Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro, said her leg is broken in two places and that she has received some medical treatment but now needs an operation. Bouvier said she was speaking Thursday and is calm throughout the more than six-minute video.

The U.N. estimates that 5,400 people have been killed in repression by the Assad regime against a popular uprising that began 11 months ago. That figure was given in January and has not been updated. Syrian activists put the death toll at more than 7,300. Overall figures cannot be independently confirmed because Syria keeps tight control on the media.

“Every minute counts,” Shaker said. “People will soon start to collapse from lack of sleep and shortages in food.”

The international struggle over how to end Syria’s crisis moves Friday to Tunisia. The meeting is expected to bring together more than 70 nations to look at ways to assist Assad’s opponents.

On the eve of the Tunisia meeting, the U.N. announced that former secretary-general Kofi Annan would be the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria. His mandate will be to try to end the violence and arrange a political transition.

The United States, Europe and Arab nations worked in London to draft a demand for Assad to impose a cease-fire with 72 hours to allow humanitarian convoys or face new punitive measures, likely to include toughened sanctions.

Officials at the London meeting said some nations have proposed creating protected corridors for humanitarian relief. It was unclear, however, whether it would receive full backing because it would almost certainly require military protection. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing discussions before the so-called “Friends of Syria” conference in Tunis.

Some Arab nations, such as Qatar, have urged consideration of direct military intervention similar to the NATO-led air campaign that helped end Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya. Western powers have so far opposed trying to mobilize another military coalition for Syria.

More workable, officials said, would be a cease-fire such as the one proposed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is calling for a daily two-hour break in fighting to provide aid.

“The efforts that we are undertaking with the international community ... are intended to demonstrate the Assad regime’s deepening isolation,” Clinton told reporters. “Our immediate focus is on increasing the pressure. We have got to find ways of getting food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance. Into affected areas. This takes time and it takes a lot of diplomacy.”

If Assad doesn’t comply, “we think that the pressure will continue to build. ... I think that the strategy followed by the Syrians and their allies is one that can’t stand the test of legitimacy ... for any length of time,” she said. “There will be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will from somewhere, somehow find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration still opposes military intervention but “obviously we’ll have to evaluate this as time goes on.”
In Geneva, a panel of U.N. human rights experts said the United Nations has a secret list of top Syrian officials who could face investigation for crimes against humanity. The U.N. experts indicated that the list goes as high as Assad.

Experts said the list appears mostly part of international pressures on Syria rather than a direct threat. Syria isn’t a member of the International Criminal Court so is outside its jurisdiction. Russia also would likely block any moves in the U.N. Security Council to refer the country to the Hague-based tribunal.

The European Union is expected next week to add seven Syrian government ministers to those already under sanctions that free assets and ban visas, said an EU official in Brussels. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of EU rules, said additional restrictions may be imposed on Syria’s central bank, on imports of precious metals from the country, and on cargo flights.

The EU had already sanctioned more than 70 Syrians and 19 organizations, and has banned imports of Syrian oil.

In Amman, Jordan, several dozen Syrians, mainly from Homs, protested at the U.S. Embassy and asked for Western military intervention. “Almighty God, destroy Bashar,” they chanted.

Printed on Friday, February 24, 2012 as: Syrian city destroyed 'inch by inch' by troops