A peace plan for Syria was in jeopardy yesterday as fresh clashes raged after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government laid down conditions for it to pull troops and armor out of protest hubs.
Under a peace deal brokered by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, Syria’s armed forces are supposed to withdraw from protest centers today, with a complete end to fighting set for 48 hours later.
However, the truce already appears in jeopardy after Damascus said it would only carry its side of the bargain if rebels first handed over written guarantees to stop fighting, a demand rejected by Free Syrian Army commander Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad.
The 11th-hour demand came as weekend violence claimed almost 180 lives, most of them civilians, a surge in bloodshed that Annan described as “unacceptable.”
Making matters worse, fresh fighting killed another 13 people yesterday, all but one of them soldiers, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The regime had thought that it would control all areas [held by rebels by today]. As this is not happening, it is procrastinating to gain time,” the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“If the Annan plan does not work, no other plan would, and Syria would plunge into a civil war,” he said.
The Observatory also reported army operations in several other parts of the country, and the killing of a civilian in an ambush near the village of Saida, in Daraa Province.
Two Syrians also died of wounds after fleeing to a refugee camp in Turkey following a shootout with al-Assad loyalists at Salama village in northern Syria’s Aleppo Province, Anatolia news agency said, citing a health official.
Diplomatic sources in Ankara said the two died after shooting from the Syrian side of the border into Turkey, and that a Turkish translator was wounded.
Fifteen people were wounded in the shootout, but it was not clear if they were civilians or rebel fighters.
About 25,000 Syrian refugees are currently housed in camps in Turkey’s three provinces bordering Syria, where civilians have been fleeing the deadly crackdown over the past year.
The Milliyet newspaper reported yesterday that Turkey would consider using troops to secure humanitarian corridors in border areas should the number of Syrian refugees swell to more than 50,000.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Liu Weimin (劉為民) urged the Syrian government to honor its truce commitments.
“China urges the Syrian government and parties concerned in Syria to seize the important opportunities, to honor their commitment of ceasefire and withdrawal of troops,” Liu said.
Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid Muallem was scheduled to fly yesterday to ally Moscow, which, along with Beijing, has blocked two UN Security Council draft resolutions condemning Damascus for its bloody crackdown.
On Sunday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry outlined the regime’s new conditions in a statement.
“To say that Syria will pull back its forces from towns on April 10 is inaccurate, Kofi Annan having not yet presented written guarantees on the acceptance by armed terrorist groups of a halt to all violence,” it said.
It said the regime was also awaiting written guarantees from the governments of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey “on stopping their funding to terrorist groups,” referring to the regime’s key regional critics.