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Mar 10, 2012 1:35 PM by Matt Stafford

UN envoy Kofi Annan in Syria to press for end to violence

BEIRUT (AP) - U.N. envoy Kofi Annan met with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday in Damascus during a high-profile international mission to mediate an end to the country's yearlong conflict, even as activists reported fresh shelling by regime forces that sent families fleeing for safety in the northern province of Idlib. Thick black smoke billowed over the area.

The state-run news agency SANA reported that talks between Assad and Annan had begun but there were no further details on the meeting, aimed at a halting violence that began with crackdowns on mostly peaceful protests but appears to be transforming into a civil war.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the government was shelling the Idlib region after tanks moved toward the area in recent days. There was no independent confirmation, but smoke rose into the sky behind some apartment buildings, according to an Associated Press team in the area.

Some families were seen fleeing the violence, clutching their belongings, or taking shelter.

Military reinforcements have been pouring into Idlib for days, including dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers, activists said. There have been concerns Idlib would be the focus of an offensive following the government recapture of the rebel-held district of Baba Amr in Homs after a bloody, month long siege.

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