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UN: Syria Must Stop Assault by Tuesday

  • Margaret Besheer

Lebanese civil defense ambulance, civilians gather at site where a cameraman was shot near Wadi Khaled, April 9, 2012.

Lebanese civil defense ambulance, civilians gather at site where a cameraman was shot near Wadi Khaled, April 9, 2012.

The United Nations has reiterated its call for the Syrian government to comply with a Tuesday deadline for ceasing military action against civilian areas. But an escalation of violence fed withering hopes that the government would honor its commitments.

With just hours to go before the Syrian army is to withdraw from towns and cities and cease using heavy weapons as the first step of a six-point peace plan brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, that plan looked in jeopardy as government tanks and helicopters reportedly attacked several cities, including the flashpoint towns of Homs, Hama, and Dara'a.

Violence also spilled over Syria’s frontiers Monday, when a Lebanese cameraman was shot and killed on the Lebanese side of the border by gunfire coming from inside Syria. Meanwhile, officials in Turkey said Syrian forces fired across their border at a refugee camp for Syrians, injuring several people.

But despite the escalation, United Nations spokesman Martin Nesirky remained adamant that the violence must cease by Tuesday.

"That deadline has not shifted, nor has responsibility for the Syrian authorities to cease all military actions against the Syrian people, in line with the promises that they have made," he said. "They need to implement the promises and the commitments that they have entered into fully and unconditionally. That is something that has not changed and will not change - the deadline is as set out already."

On Sunday, Damascus said it wanted written guarantees that the armed opposition would stop fighting before it pulls back its military under the terms of the Annan plan. It also demanded written assurances from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the three countries Syria accuses of funding and arming the rebels.

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said based on Monday’s violence, Washington is "not hopeful" Tuesday’s cessation of hostilities would go forward. But she did not give up hope on Kofi Annan’s efforts.

"[Annan] is a highly respected diplomat. He put forward something that was accepted by the entire international community - which was not the state that we were in before he joined this effort - and that was accepted by Assad," she said. "The fact that it has not worked yet does not change the fact that having the international community increasingly united and increasingly willing to pressure Assad will not [sic] eventually bring him down. He will go down.”

Annan is traveling this week to Turkey and Iran to continue his mediation efforts via countries that have influence with both the Syrian government and the opposition. He said Sunday that the escalation of violence is “unacceptable” and urged the government to implement its commitments as the April 10 deadline draws near.

Russia and China, which have until recently protected Syria from action in the U.N. Security Council, are also trying to keep the mediation efforts alive. Syria’s foreign minister is due in Moscow for talks Tuesday with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov. China’s foreign ministry spokesman has urged the government and rebels to honor their truce commitments.

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the army began cracking down on anti-government protesters 13 months ago.

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