Ceasefire in Syria comes into effect despite skepticism

A ceasefire in Syria came into effect at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) in line with an ultimatum set by U.N./Arab League envoy Kofi Annan aimed at ending violence that has killed thousands over more than a year.

Buildings damaged by the government army, according to the opposition, are seen at Juret al-Shayah, in Homs. (Reuters)

Syria has pledged to bring an end to 13 months of bloodshed that has killed thousands, but Western powers voiced skepticism and prepared to up the pressure on Damascus.

Amid reports of persistent violence, Annan said he received a letter from Syria that promised to “cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 6:00 am (0300 GMT).”

But the letter reserved the right “to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups,” a phrase used in the past by President Bashar al-Assad’s government to describe opposition forces.

“An hour after the ultimatum expired, the situation is calm in all regions,” Rami Abdel Rahman, chairman of the Syrian Human Rights Observatory, told AFP.

A “few explosions” were heard in the town of Zabadani, just outside the capital, shortly after the ceasefire entered into effect, Abdel Rahman added.

“There has not been any movement indicating a withdrawal of tanks.”

Meanwhile, the opposition said there was no sign of compliance on the ground as regime forces pounded protest centers anew in violence that monitors said killed 14 civilians on Wednesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a telephone call that the U.N. Security Council, which gave its blessing to Annan’s plan, needed to “take more resolute action” on Syria.

“The president and chancellor shared the concern that the Assad government was not complying with the terms of the agreement negotiated by Kofi Annan and continued to engage in unacceptable brutality against its own people,” a White House statement said.

The United Nations says that more than 9,000 people have died since March 2011 as Assad’s forces crush the latest in a series of uprisings against authoritarian leaders in the Arab world. U.N. and U.S. officials have charged that Assad may have carried out crimes against humanity.

Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, said that Assad’s regime has in fact intensified violence since it first committed to Annan’s plan on April 1.

In Washington, foreign ministers of the Group of Eight major industrial powers met on Syria and other global crises, with both Britain and France pressing for monitors to verify any eventual ceasefire.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called for the U.N. Security Council to seek a “robust observers force” that would verify compliance and “could move freely” without interference from Assad’s regime.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that his government would boost support for Syria’s opposition and seek further sanctions if Assad does not comply with the ceasefire.

“Our pressure on the regime ̶ its campaign of murder, torture and oppression ̶ must be intensified if Kofi Annan has not succeeded,” Hague told reporters after the first day of the two-day talks.

Syria already failed to keep a Tuesday deadline to withdraw its troops and heavy guns from population centers.

Meanwhile, Moscow, which along with China vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have tightened the screws on Assad, has championed the Annan peace plan but also sought pressure against the Syrian opposition

Russian Deputy Defence Minister Gennady Gatilov, writing on Twitter, said that after the Syrian government’s statement of support for a ceasefire “now it is the armed opposition’s turn ̶ those are the condition’s of Annan’s plan.”

For his part, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said of Syria that “all violence in the country should be halted.”

Violence in Syria has affected its neighboring countries.

On Wednesday, shots fired by Syrian forces hit a Syrian refugee camp just across the border with Turkey, Turkish media reported.

And in Jordan, an official from the interior ministry said the country now has 95,000 Syrian refugees who fled the conflict at home.

Source: AL Arabiya

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