Annan quits as Syria envoy, White House ups pressure on Assad to go

The White House sped new humanitarian aid to Syria and heaped fresh pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quit power on Thursday after Kofi Annan resigned as the top international mediator in the bloody 17-month crisis.

In a parting shot, the former U.N. secretary general and Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote in the Financial Times that the international community had proven "strikingly powerless" in the face of the violence. He also scolded President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, saying they needed to show "courage and leadership" to find a compromise.

Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president was "grateful" to Annan for his work and said his resignation highlighted Assad's determination "to brutally murder his own people" as well as the "failure" of Russia and China to support international efforts to end the bloodshed.

"It is disgusting, and really highlights the absolute requirement that for the future of the Syrian people, Assad must step aside," Carney said, declaring that Russia and China were "on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the Syrian people."

In a separate written statement, Carney also announced that Obama had approved another $12 million in humanitarian aid, bringing overall help from Washington for those affected by the conflict to more than $76 million. Carney warned that the situation was "dire and rapidly deteriorating" and said the United States was providing "food, water, medical supplies, clothing, hygiene kits, and other humanitarian relief to those most urgently in need." (Obama has publicly resisted calls to arm rebels against Assad's rule, though media reports over the past few weeks have indicated that the CIA and other governmental agencies are playing a covert role in helping the opposition).

Carney also urged all parties "to ensure the safety of civilians and aid workers, and the safe and unimpeded delivery of relief supplies to those in need."

International observers say the 17-month conflict has left more than 10,000 dead, displaced more than one million Syrians internally, and sent 130,000 refugees into neighboring countries, notably Turkey.

Obama has discussed the crisis this week with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. Efforts to galvanize international action have stalled because of opposition from Russia and China, which have vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at speeding Assad's departure. Moscow has had a historically warm relationship with Damascus, to which it has sold weapons, and both Russia and China are generally leery of setting precedents for international action against a country that uses force to suppress uprisings.

Annan's departure throws the already sputtering diplomatic efforts into further doubt.  U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the envoy's resignation "with deep regret" and praised him for tackling "this most difficult and potentially thankless of assignments." Ban said the search was already on to find a successor—but also acknowledged the failure of Annan's six-point plan for ending the crisis.

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