Syria steps up assault in rebel zones
Homs becomes a ghost city after the clashes between army and rebels. AA photoFierce clashes erupted in Syria yesterday, with the ruling regime sending reinforcements into rebel areas despite a peace pledge, and the U.N. announcing it would rush an advance team to Damascus in order to negotiate a monitoring mission.
The surge in violence comes a day after the U.N. Security Council was told by peace envoy Kofi Annan that President Bashar al-Assad had given assurances he would “immediately” start pulling back his forces and complete a military withdrawal from urban areas by April 10. Syria’s U.N. envoy, Bashar Jaafari, confirmed the April 10 date had been agreed “by common accord” between Annan and his government.
In Geneva, a spokesman for Annan said the office of the U.N.-Arab League envoy expected a “U.N. advance team on the deployment of monitors to arrive in Syria within the next 48 hours, to work on the modalities of the deployment of monitors.”
The Security Council was also told that it could take at least two months to get a full mission of about 250 observers into Syria if a ceasefire is declared, one diplomat said. It would also require a Security Council resolution.
Meanwhile, Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger was in Damascus holding talks with Syrian officials aimed at securing a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire - a condition set out in Annan’s six-point peace plan.
Monitors said heavy fighting engulfed opposition strongholds in the southern region of Daraa, the northwestern Idlib province and near the capital yesterday.
Dozens of armored personnel carriers arrived in Dael, a town in Daraa province where the uprising against al-Assad began in March 2011, as well as in Zabadani, a bastion of the rebellion near Lebanon. In central Homs, three civilians were killed in shelling of the city’s Bayyada neighbourhood while regime forces backed by tanks were said to be moving on the region of Hula.
In Idlib, bordering Turkey, fighting was taking place on the outskirts of Taftanaz, where two civilians and one soldier were killed amid heavy machinegun fire and shelling, said activists.
In Damascus province, clashes were reported in the towns of Douma and in Zabadani, where the army was carrying out arrest raids.
Observers have charged that the army is torching and looting rebel houses across Syria in a campaign that could amount to crimes against humanity.
One diplomat said Annan had confirmed to council members that there had been “no progress on the ground” toward halting the violence and that there were daily reports of army shelling.
Washington’s U.N. envoy Susan Rice said on April 2 that the U.S. and other countries doubted whether al-Assad would commit to reining in his forces.
“Past experience would lead us to be skeptical and to worry that over the next several days - rather than a diminution of the violence - we might yet again see an escalation of the violence. We certainly hope that is not so,” said Rice.
Rice said Annan told the council he would have liked an earlier deadline and urged Damascus to “start immediately and to ensure that forces move no further into population centers.”
Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.