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April 09, 2012

As Syrian Government Claims Pullout, Activists Report Attacks

Syrian activists reported military attacks on two towns and no large-scale troop pullout Tuesday, even as Syria's government claimed its forces have begun withdrawing from some cities in compliance with a U.N.-brokered truce.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces shelled the central city of Hama and the northwestern town of Mareh while parts of Homs came under mortar fire. The group also said insurgents killed six soldiers in attacks on two checkpoints near the remote desert town of Marqada, south of the Turkish border.

In Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Damascus has started to fulfill U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's plan to end the violence. But he seemed to raise another new demand, saying a cease-fire must start simultaneously with the deployment of an international observer mission.

Moallem's Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, said the Syrian government "could have been more decisive" in implementing the peace plan, but he also called on opposition forces to halt the violence. Russia has been one of few world powers to offer some support to Assad in his bloody standoff with protestors.

Annan in Turkey

Meanwhile, Annan arrived in Turkey and was on his way toward the border with Syria. He will visit a Turkish-sponsored refugee camp where shootings by Syrian forces from across the frontier wounded six people - including two Turkish nationals - on Monday. Unconfirmed reports said two people were killed.

Pro-Assad troops also opened fire across the tense Lebanese border the same day, killing a television cameraman.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday accused Syria of violating the border and said his country is considering what steps to take in response, including measures "we do not want to think about." He did not elaborate.

Turkey, which has already given shelter to some 24,000 Syrian refugees, has floated the idea of creating security zones along its border, a step that could drag the Turkish military into the conflict. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was accompanying Erdogan during an official trip to China, will cut short his visit and fly home Tuesday because of the recent developments.

China expresses concern

China's foreign ministry expressed concern Tuesday over the border incidents and again called on the Syrian government and opposition forces to immediately back the international truce plan.

The United States and the United Nations condemned Syria's attack on the refugee camp in the border town of Kilis as well as the death of the TV journalist in Lebanon.

The deal brokered by Annan says Syria must begin pulling its troops out of population centers by Tuesday morning, with a full cease-fire by both sides within 48 hours. But hopes for the plan dimmed after the fresh wave of violence and new demands by the government for written guarantees that the opposition will lay down arms first.

Activists reported more than 125 people killed since Sunday within Syria as forces loyal to Assad continued to shell rebellious cities as a bloody crackdown continued on a 13-month anti-government uprising.

Human Rights Watch said Syrian forces have summarily executed more than 100 people, mostly civilians, during the past four months, mostly in March. Monday's report said this includes several mass executions in the restive provinces of Homs and Idlib.

U.N. officials say more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began 13 months ago.



Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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