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Syria agrees to stop shelling by April 10, but doubts abound

The government has accepted a U.N.-backed peace plan, envoy Kofi Annan says, but opposition groups are skeptical.

April 02, 2012|By Los Angeles Times Staff
  • Syrian Free Army members guard an entrance to a neighborhood in Damascus. The government reportedly has agreed to an April 10 deadline to stop shelling opposition-held areas, but rebel groups are skeptical.
Syrian Free Army members guard an entrance to a neighborhood in Damascus.… (Associated Press )

BEIRUT — Syria has agreed to an April 10 deadline to abide by a U.N.-backed peace plan that would require its forces to stop shelling opposition-held areas and withdraw tanks and heavy weapons from cities and towns, special envoy Kofi Annan told the U.N. Security Council on Monday.

Annan, who proposed the six-point plan last month, has also reached out to the opposition and urged it to halt operations within 48 hours of the regime's ceasing its offensive.

But rebels and activists, who have been calling for the fall of President Bashar Assad for a year, expressed skepticism, as they have with previous failed attempts to negotiate with the regime.

Abu Alababid, a member of the Revolutionary Council in Dara, said the plan would be positive — and would lead to the quick fall of the regime — if it was implemented. But he didn't hold out hope for that.

"The Syrian people have been cheated once and twice and three times," he said. "When he [Assad] did away with the emergency law last year, he killed 30 people in the same day. We no longer have trust in the regime."

Activists said 146 people were killed Monday, many of them women and children and most of them from Homs. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said 75 unidentified bodies were found in Homs National Hospital. Shelling of several parts of the country, including Idlib, continued unabated.

The committee reported that about 8,000 refugees arrived in a village in Homs province on Sunday night, fleeing violence elsewhere and putting a strain on the area. In many single-family homes, more than 100 people were seeking shelter.

The Syrian government has restricted media access to the conflict zone, so the opposition statements could not be independently verified.

Ibrahim, an activist in Idlib, echoed the sentiments of other opposition figures when he dismissed the Annan plan and any attempt at negotiation with the regime.

"If they are really going to withdraw their tanks, then why did they shell Jabal al Zawiya and surrounding villages today?" he said. "Nothing is going to change at all."

Annan, speaking a day after Arab and Western leaders met in Istanbul, Turkey, committing millions of dollars to support the opposition, said he wished for an earlier deadline. A U.N. peacekeeping team and some of his staff will travel to Syria this week to prepare for a possible monitoring mission.

On Monday, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, arrived in Syria for a two-day visit focused on the humanitarian situation, including the increasing needs of sick, wounded and displaced people and access to prisoners.

Echoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's comments at the Friends of the Syrian People conference in Istanbul on Sunday, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said, "We have seen ... promises made and promises broken."

"Some members of the Security Council expressed concern that the government of Syria not use the next days to intensify the violence," Rice said, speaking after attending Annan's briefing of the council Monday. "We have seen commitments to end the violence followed by massive intensification of violence."

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