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Fighting, shelling reported in Syria despite cease-fire pledge

Special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan says he expects Syria President Bashar Assad to implement an immediate cease-fire. But opposition groups report at least 45 people killed around the nation.

March 31, 2012|From a Times staff writer
  • This image from amateur video released Friday purportedly shows civilians moving with Syrian troops, possibly as human shields, in Idlib, Syria. The information cannot be verified.
This image from amateur video released Friday purportedly shows civilians… (Shaam News Network )

BEIRUT -- Clashes and shelling were reported across Syria on Friday, even as the former secretary-general of the United Nations said he expected an immediate cease-fire by President Bashar Assad's forces.

At least 45 people were killed nationwide in the violence, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a coalition of opposition activist groups. The killings, including 14 in the northeast city of Dair Alzour and 12 in the central city of Homs, took place amid large protests across the country by activists demanding action in the Arab world in support of their cause.

"We expect [Assad] to implement this plan immediately," said a spokesman for Kofi Annan, the U.N.'s former leader and now a special envoy to Syria, speaking of the cease-fire. "Clearly, we have not seen a cessation of hostilities on the ground. This is our great concern."

Assad had agreed to the six-point plan, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, in a letter to Annan this week.

It calls for talks between the opposition and the government in an "inclusive Syrian-led political process," a cease-fire and troop withdrawal, humanitarian assistance in areas affected by the fighting, the release of those who have been arbitrarily detained, free access for journalists and respect for "freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully."

But in Homs, activist Waleed Fares on Friday reported shells falling in the Old City every 10 to 15 minutes. "Big parts of the city are being destroyed," he said via the Skype communications system.

In Hama, Dair Alzour and the Damascus suburbs, clashes between Free Syrian Army rebels and government forces erupted within days after Assad agreed to the U.N.-backed peace plan.

A day after Syrian state media reported that two army colonels were killed in the city of Aleppo, which is seen as still supporting the Assad regime, activists said there was a wave of arrests in neighborhoods that have been most active in antigovernment protests.

In the province of Idlib, the army has been methodically trying to retake rebel-held towns and villages by shelling and then invading them. On Friday, the army bombed villages to the east of the city of Maarat Numan and in parts of Jabal Zawiyah, killing four people.

"There is no ability to fight them," said activist Abu Hafs in Maarat Numan. "But we can still come out and protest."

Arab leaders had met in Baghdad this week at a summit where much of the focus was on Syria and Annan's plan, but little concrete action resulted.

"The rhetoric has changed a bit," Homs activist Fares said after the Arab League summit, but "no Arab leader ... has openly called for Bashar to step down."

The newly renamed "Friends of the Syrian People," a group of more than 60 nations including the United States, is set to meet Sunday in Istanbul, Turkey, to discuss ways of ending the violence. Some analysts say key members, particularly Saudi Arabia, are becoming impatient with diplomatic efforts and may adopt a harder position against Damascus after the meeting in Turkey.

Special correspondent Rima Marrouch in Beirut contributed to this report.

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