No signs of peace as Syria troop withdrawal deadline dawns: Report

By AFP
Published: April 10, 2012

Fighting spilled into neighbouring countries. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

DAMASCUS: Syria faced a deadline Tuesday to withdraw its forces from urban areas as Washington said Damascus had shown no sign of complying with a peace deal amid fierce clashes that killed more than 100.

Fighting spilled over into neighbouring countries as the peace accord brokered by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan hung by a thread Tuesday, the day Syria’s armed forces were supposed to withdraw from urban protest centres.

A complete end to fighting designed to avert all-out civil war was scheduled to follow 48 hours later.

On Monday Washington said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had shown no sign so far that his government was sticking by the peace plan after signing on to the deal last week.

“We certainly have seen no sign yet of the Assad regime abiding by its commitments,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon made a final plea for Assad to stop attacks on civilians after Monday’s clashes saw one of the heaviest tolls since the Syrian unrest erupted over a year ago.

“The secretary general reiterates his demand that the government of Syria immediately cease all military actions against civilians and fulfill all of its commitments made through joint special envoy Kofi Annan,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

The truce plan has been under a cloud for days since Damascus said it would keep its side of the bargain only if rebels gave written guarantees they would also stop fighting, a condition rejected out of hand by the rebels.

At least 105 people were killed on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said after weekend violence claimed almost 180 lives, most of them civilians.

Deaths were reported for the first time across the border in Turkey and Lebanon on Monday, triggering an angry rebuke from Washington.

On the northern border, shots fired from inside Syria wounded two Syrians and a Turkish translator in the first case of Syrian fire hitting people on Turkish soil.

A Lebanese television cameraman Ali Shaaban was killed inside Lebanese territory, also by Syrian gunfire.

Monday’s toll included 23 members of the security forces and eight rebel fighters, while the rest were civilians, the monitor said.

The Britain-based Observatory said Syrian helicopters attacked the village of Kfar Zeita in Hama province as regular forces clashed with rebels.

At least 35 civilians were killed in regime bombardment of Latamna village in the province, the Observatory said.

It said the regime was reneging on its peace accord promise because it had failed in a bid to take control of the country militarily beforehand.

“The regime had thought that it would control all areas (by April 10). As this is not happening, it is procrastinating to gain time,” said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

“If the Annan plan does not work, no other plan would, and Syria would plunge into a civil war.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters the United States was “absolutely outraged by today’s report” of fighting spilling over into Turkey.

The incident — on the eve of a visit by Annan to refugee camps on the border — prompted Turkey’s foreign ministry to tell Syria’s mission in Ankara to “immediately halt the shooting,” a diplomatic source said.

Some 25,000 Syrian refugees are currently in camps in Turkey’s three provinces bordering Syria, after fleeing the deadly year-long crackdown.

Milliyet newspaper reported on Monday that Ankara would consider using troops to secure humanitarian corridors in border areas if refugee numbers rose above 50,000.

Lebanon, whose government is dominated by pro-Syrian parties, condemned Monday’s death of the Lebanese television cameraman.

Syria’s SANA state news agency said the team from Al-Jadeed television came under fire as border guards retaliated to an attack by “terrorist groups.”

Amid the clashes, China urged Syria to honour its commitments and to implement the peace deal.

“China urges the Syrian government and parties concerned in Syria to seize the important opportunities, to honour their commitment of ceasefire and withdrawal of troops,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was due on Tuesday to meet Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. Russia and Beijing blocked two UN Security Council draft resolutions condemning Damascus for its bloody crackdown.

On Sunday, the Syrian foreign ministry outlined the regime’s new conditions that put the peace deal in doubt, namely written guarantees from the rebels of a ceasefire and pledges from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey who oppose the Damascus regime that they would stop backing the rebels.

After Turkey, Annan will travel to Syria’s ally Iran, for a visit to Syrian refugee camps near the border, a Turkish diplomatic source said.

“I remind the Syrian government of the need for full implementation of its commitments and stress that the present escalation of violence is unacceptable,” Annan said on Sunday.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed since anti-regime protests broke out in March 2011, while monitors put the number at more than 10,000.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch accused Syrian security forces of executing more than 100 civilians and rebels in protest hubs since late 2011, urging any UN mission to Syria to collect evidence.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • j. von hettlingen
    Apr 10, 2012 - 3:51PM

    Assad is playing an extremely nefarious game. The clash on the Turkish border was no random incident. It was a blatant provocation and aimed at involving Turkey in a low-intensity war on the border. This would allow militants of the Kurdish PKK, who are sheltered by Assad to launch attacks on Turkey, which would be fighting on two fronts. Assad has been accusing its erstwhile good neighbour of supplying the opposition with weapons and allowing its militants to cross the Turkish border. Turkey is in a dilemma and has to find a strategy to deal with Assad.

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