Fragile lull in Syria as UN expects more steps
Buildings damaged during clashes are seen in Homs as Syria observes tentative cease-fire between military and rebels. REUTERS photoA cease-fire appears to be holding, but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must carry out all parts of an agreed peace plan, U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said yesterday.
“Syria is apparently experiencing a rare moment of calm on the ground,” Annan said in a statement, released as he briefed the U.N. Security Council on the crisis. However, Syria has not fully complied with the terms of his peace plan and urged the 15-nation body to demand the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from towns, council diplomats said.
Annan also told council members that Syria’s fragile truce needed support and called for the swift deployment of a first wave of unarmed observers to monitor implementation of his six-point peace plan, to be followed by a second wave of observers later, diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also said the situation in Syria looked calmer and said that plans were being made to send an observer team to Syria as soon as possible following the start of a ceasefire. “We are working to send an observer team as promptly as possible,” Ban told a news conference in Geneva.
Three civilians, one officer killed
However, the cease-fire that took effect in Syria at dawn is only being “partially observed,” as heavy weapons and government troops remain deployed in cities, the main opposition movement said yesterday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, also said a man had been shot dead in the central town of Safsafiyeh in Hama province.
A grassroots opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, said regime forces carried out arrests in the Damascus suburb of Maadamiyah. It also reported anti-regime protests at universities in the southern city of Daraa and the eastern city of Deir el-Zour.
Blast hits soldiers’ bus: Syrian TV
Meanwhile, Damascus accused “terrorists” of planting a roadside bomb that blew up in Aleppo, killing one officer and wounding at least 24 cadets and officers, in an attempt to sabotage the ceasefire, state media said yesterday. The blast killed a lieutenant colonel and civilians were among the wounded, it said.
Spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army Col. Kassem Saadeddine denied any involvement in the attack, saying that they were fully committed to the truce. “The regime is being devious. We are 100 percent committed to the ceasefire. We shall not be provoked by the regime,” he said.
Damascus calls on migrants
“There is no evidence of a significant withdrawal,” the Syrian National Council’s (SNC) spokeswoman Basma Qadmani told a news briefing in Geneva. “The ceasefire is ... only being partially observed ... To us it’s clear that a ceasefire implies the withdrawal of all heavy weaponry from cities and populated areas, but this has not happened.” Qadmani said three people had been killed in the towns of Idlib and Hama yesterday.
The SNC’s leader, Burhan Ghalioun, urged Syrians to demonstrate peacefully on Friday, the traditional day of weekly protests since the uprising began. “Tomorrow, like every Friday, the Syrian people are called on to demonstrate even more and pressure the regime to honor its responsibilities and the international community to honor its responsibilities,” he said.
Syria’s government yesterday offered an amnesty to opposition gunmen “without blood on their hands,” urging them to surrender as a U.N.-backed ceasefire entered into force. “The interior ministry calls on gunmen whose hands have not been stained with Syrian blood to hand themselves in, along with their weapons, to the nearest police station. They will be released and all legal procedures against them would be terminated,” it was quoted by state television as saying.
The government also urged tens of thousands of people who fled inside or outside the country due to violence to return home. “The interior ministry calls on brother citizens, who were forced to flee their homes, whether to areas within the country or to neighboring states, to return home, and ignore propaganda and misleading news,” it said in a statement.
Some 25,000 Syrians have so far fled to Turkey. In Jordan, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has registered between 5,000 to 8,000 Syrians, but the Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said more than 90,000 Syrians had sought refuge in the country.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.