Kofi Annan decries ‘atrocities’ in Syria
People take part in a rally to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Baath Party’s foundation at al-Sabaa Bahrat square April 7. The Syrian regime demands a written assurance for a cease-fire, which is rejected by the opposition army FSA.U.N. peace envoy Kofi Annan said yesterday he was shocked by the mounting violence, which reportedly killed more than 130 people over the weekend, as Damascus said its troops would not withdraw from protest hubs without written guarantees.
“I am shocked by recent reports of a surge in violence and atrocities in several towns and villages in Syria, resulting in alarming levels of casualties, refugees and displaced persons, in violation of assurances given to me,” Annan said in a statement.
As the April 10 U.N. deadline looms for regime forces to cease fire and pull back from rebel cities, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said it had not been given assurances that “armed terrorist groups” would also put down their guns.
No pull back without written guarantees
“To say that Syria will pull back its forces from towns on April 10 is inaccurate, as Kofi Annan has yet to present written guarantees on the acceptance of a halt to violence by armed terrorist groups,” the ministry said.
Annan’s peace plan foresees the withdrawal of the Syrian army from protest cities on April 10, with a complete end to fighting 48 hours later.
On April 5, the U.N. Security Council formally endorsed the deadline, but Damascus said a day later that the number of “terrorist acts” had risen since the deal was agreed with the U.N. and Arab League envoy.
“Mr. Annan has not submitted written guarantees from the governments of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on stopping their funding to terrorist groups,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The ministry also said that when Annan met President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, the former U.N. chief “said he would work to stop the violence, disarm armed groups ... and initiate a comprehensive national dialogue with opposition movements … It is this principle on which Syria accepted Annan’s mission and his six-point plan.”
However, the ministry also expressed the government’s willingness to cooperate “in the hope of obtaining documented guarantees.” The commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), Col. Riad al-Asaad, yesterday rejected the Syrian government’s demand, saying his group did not recognize the al-Assad regime and therefore would not give such guarantees. Speaking by telephone from his base in neighboring Turkey, al-Asaad said the government should withdraw its forces to bases and remove checkpoints from streets.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem is scheduled to travel to close ally Moscow today.
90 tanks bombard Idlib, activists
The main umbrella opposition group the Syrian National Council called for a U.N. intervention, after monitoring groups said 86 of nearly 130 people killed on April 7 were civilians. Another 11 were killed yesterday across the country.
Syrian forces shelled an area in the rebellious province of Idlib near the border with Turkey over the weekend, killing and injuring dozens of people, opposition activists said. Around 90 tanks and armored vehicles, backed by helicopters, bombarded the al-Rouge Plain southwest of Idlib city, the provincial capital, activists inside Syria and on the border with Turkey told Reuters.
Fighters from the FSA were surrounded in al-Bashiriya, one of about 40 villages in the plain, activists added. “The army is shelling al-Rouge with tanks and helicopters are firing rockets at al-Bashiriya. Tens of people have fallen dead or injured but we cannot get to them because the bombardment is heavy,” said activist Mahmoud Ali, with the sound of helicopters audible on the phone.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI called yesterday - Easter for most Christians - for an end to the bloodshed. “Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community,” he said in his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” message.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.