Fierce clashes erupted yesterday as Syria’s regime sent reinforcements into rebel areas despite a peace pledge, while the UN said it would rush an advance team to Damascus to negotiate a monitoring mission.
The surge in violence comes a day after the UN Security Council was told by peace envoy Kofi Annan that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had given assurances he would “immediately” start pulling back his forces and complete a military withdrawal from urban areas by Tuesday next week.
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 yesterday engulfed opposition strongholds in the southern region of Daraa, the northwestern Idlib Province and near the capital.
Dozens of armored personnel carriers arrived in Dael, a town in Daraa Province where the uprising against al-Assad began in March last year, as well as in Zabadani, a bastion of the rebellion near Lebanon.
Dael activist Sayyed Mahmud said the situation was extremely tense in the town.
“They burned down 14 houses yesterday. They are arresting people and have sent in troop reinforcements,” he said. “As part of the regime’s campaign to starve the people, troops are raiding homes, destroying food stocks and equipment. They go into bakeries and destroy the dough. There are 15-hour power cuts a day.”
In Idlib, which borders Turkey, fighting was taking place on the outskirts of Taftanaz, where two civilians and one soldier were killed amid heavy machinegun fire and shelling, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“Four civilians have been wounded and several homes torched,” it said. “Rebels managed to disable a troop carrier and have killed or wounded a number of government troops.”
In Damascus Province, clashes were reported in the towns of Douma and in Zabadani, where the army was carrying out arrest raids.
The Observatory has charged that the army is torching and looting rebel houses throughout Syria in a campaign that could amount to crimes against humanity.
In a briefing on Monday to the Security Council, Annan sought a broad mandate for the monitoring mission as he reported “no progress” on reaching a ceasefire, diplomats said.
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.