The UN-backed Action Group on Syria generated an agreement [UN News Centre report] on Saturday designed to aid Syria in ending the violence that has occurred in the country over the last 16 months. The plan [text, PDF] outlines six steps the international community must take as well as steps Syria must take for a successful transition, including ending violence, providing access for humanitarian groups to reach those in need, releasing detainees, beginning inclusive political dialogue and unrestricted access to both Syrian and international media outlets. Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan [official website] said in his concluding remarks [text]: "Today the international community has taken its cooperation to a stronger level, by being clearer and more specific. They have laid out a path that we hope the Syrian people can embrace and work with. And they have given me their support in my difficult task as Joint Special Envoy." US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered support [press briefing transcript] for the plan and said that the US "will not waiver in our conviction that the future of Syria belongs to the Syrian people." The Action Group is comprised of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the League of Arab States [official website]; the Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council; the Foreign Minister of Turkey; the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy [official website]; and the Foreign Ministers of Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar. Although the agreement recognizes and condemns the government's use of force, it does not call for the removal of any government officials, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC backgrounder].
Syria has been plagued with violence over the past year and a half, and human rights groups have blamed both the government and anti-government groups for the resulting deaths. Last week, a UN commission said [JURIST report] Syrian forces "may have been responsible" for the killing of more than 100 civilians in Al-Houla last month. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, however, said earlier this month that the government had nothing to do with it [JURIST report] and that "not even monsters" would carry out those attacks. In April, the UN Security Council approved a resolution [JURIST report] to send 300 unarmed soldiers and other humanitarian aid to supervise the implementation of a peace plan. This came after Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [JURIST report] stating that Syrian security forces had killed more than 100 civilians and opposition fighters in recent attacks. In March, HRW also reported on and linked to videos of Syrian forces rounding up civilians [JURIST report], including women and children, and forcing them to walk in front of soldiers and tanks during troop movements and attacks so that opposition fighters would not shoot at them.