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U.S. warns Syria it can’t deceive world over pullout
Question of the Day
BEIRUT (AP) — The U.S. warned Syria it won’t be able to deceive the world about compliance with a cease-fire that is just days away, as regime forces pounded more opposition strongholds Saturday in an apparent rush to crush resistance before troops must withdraw. Activists said more than 100 people were killed, including at least 87 civilians.
Almost half died in a Syrian army raid on the central village of al-Latamneh, activists said. Amateur video from the village showed the body of a baby with bloodied clothes and an apparent bullet wound in the chest. On another video, a barrage of shells is heard hitting a neighborhood of Homs as the restive city’s skyline is engulfed in white smoke.
Syrian President Bashar Assad last week accepted a cease-fire agreement brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan calling for government forces to withdraw from towns and villages by Tuesday, and for the regime and rebels to lay down their arms by 6 a.m. Thursday. The truce is meant to pave the way for negotiations between the government and the opposition over Syria’s political future.
However, Western leaders are skeptical about Assad’s intentions because of broken promises of the past and the recent escalation in attacks on opposition strongholds, including arrest sweeps and shelling of civilian areas. The U.S. ambassador to Syria posted online satellite images late Friday that he said cast doubt on the regime’s readiness to pull out.
“This is not the reduction in offensive Syrian government security operations that all agree must be the first step for the Annan initiative to succeed,” Ambassador Robert Ford wrote on the embassy’s Facebook page.
Ford posted photos he said show the government has pulled back some forces, but kept others in place or simply shifted around troops and armored vehicles. Earlier this week, the government claimed it had withdrawn from several areas.
“The regime and the Syrian people should know that we are watching,” Ford wrote, citing satellite surveillance. “The regime cannot hide the truth.”
The ambassador, who left Syria in February amid security concerns, said the Syrian government must give U.N. monitors access to confirm its compliance with the cease-fire. A U.N. advance team arrived in Damascus earlier this week; Annan’s spokesman has said the U.N.-Arab league envoy hopes to put together a team of 200 to 250 observers.
Syria says the details of the mission have not been worked out.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, expressed alarm about escalating violence, saying Tuesday’s deadline for a troop pullback “is not an excuse for continued killing.” On Friday, he urged the regime to cease all military action immediately and unconditionally.
In Saudi Arabia, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation said Saturday that it believes some 1 million of Syria’s 23 million residents need humanitarian assistance. The OIS, which considers itself the voice of the Islamic world with 57 Muslim majority member states, said it would provide $70 million in aid, including food and medical supplies. It has already sent nine trucks with relief to the areas most in need.
The group sent representatives to Syria, a member country, in late March and said it was willing to work closely with authorities there.
The international community has been deadlocked over how to end the violence in Syria. Assad allies Russia and China blocked resolutions condemning Syria. The West, in turn, opposes military intervention or arming the opposition fighters. Russia, increasingly critical of the Syrian regime, supports Annan’s plan, but it’s not clear if that’s enough to make a truce stick.
Street protests against Assad erupted 13 months ago, inspired by the Arab Spring’s pro-democracy uprisings in the region, but eventually turned violent under a brutal regime crackdown. More than 9,000 people have been killed since then, the U.N. says.
Ill-equipped, poorly funded civilians-turned-fighters and army defectors have been no match for the regime, backed by a loyal army. On Friday, in a typical street battle, fighters in ski masks took cover behind walls and tried to spot army snipers in a Damascus suburb.
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