Activists reported military attacks and arrest raids in several towns across Syria yesterday and denied claims by the Syrian foreign minister that government forces had begun pulling out of some areas in compliance with a UN-brokered truce.
They said they have seen no signs of the large-scale troop pullback that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad committed to under the ceasefire brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. Military forces were supposed to withdraw from towns and villages yesterday, with both sides ceasing all hostilities by 6am tomorrow.
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero dismissed Syria’s claims of compliance as “a new expression of this flagrant and unacceptable lie.” Even ally Russia seemed critical of the regime.
“We believe that their efforts to implement the plan could have been more active and resolute,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
The truce is widely seen as the last chance for diplomacy, and its collapse could push Syria even closer to an all-out civil war.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said there were no indications the government was pulling back forces. Instead, the group and activists in Syria reported shelling attacks and raids in several locations in the north, center and south of the country, it said.
“Soldiers are not being withdrawn from towns and villages,” said Fadi al-Yassin, an activist in Idlib Province, which is close to Turkey. “On the contrary, reinforcements are being sent.”
In Idlib and Hama Province, troops backed by helicopters were firing heavy machine guns to try to flush out opposition fighters, al-Yassin said.
Regime forces detained -residents and set four homes on fire in Idlib’s Ariha Village and a contingent of 50 army vehicles entered the town of Kfar Zeita in Hama Province, he said.
The observatory said troops also fired shells at the town of Mareh in northwestern Syria and at two neighborhoods in Homs. Additional raids were reported in two southern village, the group said.
In Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said the regime was complying with the truce.
“We have already withdrawn forces and army units from several Syrian provinces,” he said in a joint news conference with Lavrov.
There were also signs that the regime was stalling for time when it made new, last-minute demands over the weekend, saying it could not withdraw troops from towns without written guarantees that the rebels would lay down their arms.
Moallem appeared to raise another new demand, saying that the ceasefire must start simultaneously with the deployment of the international observer mission. The deployment of observers was one of the terms of Annan’s plan.
And in another apparent shift, Moallem said Syria wants the truce guarantees to be issued by Annan, not by the opposition fighters.
“We do not ask for guarantees from armed terrorist groups that practice killing, take hostages and destroy infrastructure. We want guarantees from Annan,” he said.