China warns of full-scale war in Syria as Lebanon army restores calm


China’s top state newspaper warned on Monday that any Western-backed military intervention in Syria would unleash even bloodier chaos, and said abandoning envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan could push Syria into the “abyss” of full-scale war, as Lebanese forces managed to restore calm in the northern city of Tripoli after Syria-linked deadly clashes.

The People’s Daily, the main newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, spelled out the reasons for Beijing’s opposition to a tougher response to the massacre last month of 108 people in al-Houla, which Western and Arab governments blamed on forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

The paper also warned that “external forces are not qualified to meddle,” according to Reuters.

“It is easy to imagine the turmoil that would occur should Syria erupt into all-out civil war, triggering Western military intervention,” said a commentary in the paper, which generally reflects Chinese government thinking.

Al-Houla massacre prompted Annan to warn of the growing risk of civil war in Syria, where rebels have urged the international envoy to declare his peace plan dead.

But China’s People’s Daily said Annan’s April 12 ceasefire deal remained the only practical basis for seeking peace in Syria, where government forces have been fighting opposition groups despite the nominal ceasefire.

“If this realistic path to a peaceful resolution of the Syrian issue is blocked, it is entirely likely the country will be pushed into the abyss of outright war,” it said.

“At present, the realistic plan for resolving the Syrian issue remains Annan’s six points and his peace plan.”

The state paper amplified earlier comments from China’s Foreign Ministry, which has repeated Beijing’s opposition to forceful intervention in Syria.

China traditionally joins with Russia in opposing Western calls for intervention in domestic crises abroad. In 2011, both countries accused NATO forces of illegitimately turning a United Nations-authorized operation to protect civilians in war-stricken Libya into a broader campaign to oust Muammar Qaddafi.

On Friday, Russia, China and Cuba voted against a resolution passed by the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva condemning Syria for the massacre in al-Houla area and calling for a U.N. investigation to gather evidence for possible criminal prosecution.

Beijing also faces pressure from some Arab countries that have demanded a stronger response to the bloodshed in Syria. China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi told them on Thursday his country was keeping faith with Annan’s peace plan.

Calm restored in northern Lebanon

Meanwhile, Lebanese soldiers and security forces entered areas of the northern city of Tripoli on Sunday to restore calm after deadly clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian regime gunmen, a security official said.

“Security forces and the army entered the Bab al-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen districts... where there were no armed elements visible, complete calm having returned on all main roads,” the National News Agency (NNA) quoted local security official Bassam Ayyoubi as saying.

Earlier on Sunday, a security official told AFP: “There was fierce fighting throughout the night, which killed two people and left 12 injured, bringing the death toll since Saturday to 14 dead and 48 wounded.”

There had also been a great deal of material damage, the official added.

An AFP correspondent reported that the army was in Bab al-Tebbaneh, a mostly Sunni Muslim community that supports Syria’s anti-regime opposition, and in Jabal Mohsen, which is populated mainly by pro-Damascus Alawites.

The army deployed after a meeting in which Prime Minister Najib Mikati met leaders of the city and security heads at his home in Tripoli to reach an accord on the implementation of security measures and removal of arms.

The NNA reported that several shells “fell during the night in areas relatively distant from the scene of the clashes.”

The army and internal security forces were instructed to “take immediate measures to stop the clashes in Tripoli without discrimination.”

The security forces were told to “strike with an iron fist and to deal firmly and decisively with those tampering with security and stability of the city.”

A statement from the meeting stressed that “all leaders of the city withdraw all political cover for the abusers of security and stability” and urged a “removal of all forms of weaponry from streets and neighborhoods.”

Sectarian violence has flared several times in Tripoli since the revolt broke out in neighboring Syria in March last year, including street battles in May that left 10 dead.

Bab al-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen have been gripped by frequent fighting, reflecting a split between Lebanon's parties where the opposition backs the revolt in Syria while a ruling coalition led by Hezbollah supports the Damascus regime.

The army said two Lebanese men detained in the east near the border with Syria were freed on Sunday.

The NNA had reported on Wednesday that the two were seized by five armed men who entered Lebanon from Syria.