The United Nations effort to end the violence in Syria unraveled as the regime differed with envoy Kofi Annan over terms of a cease-fire and opposition groups reported 59 more people killed.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government refused to pull back forces without written cease-fire commitments from the rebels. Colonel Riad al-Asaad, commander of the Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group, told Al Jazeera television in an interview that while the group would abide by the UN accord, it wouldn’t give further written guarantees to the government.
Violence has increased since Assad accepted the UN peace accord on April 2. Syrian government forces killed 59 people across the country yesterday, the Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem is scheduled to meet with his Russian counterpart,Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow today to discuss developments related to Annan’s peace plan, SANA reported.
The UN is urging a cease-fire as the U.S. and its allies try to strengthen the opposition without outside military involvement. At least 9,000 people have been killed in the year- long conflict, according to UN estimates.
Annan’s office said in an April 5 statement that it expected Syrian government forces to withdraw from populated areas by April 10 as part of the agreement, after which the government and opposition forces would cease all forms of violence within 48 hours.
“I remind the Syrian government of the need for full implementation of its commitments and stress that the present escalation of violence is unacceptable,” Annan, the UN special envoy, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Recent violence has resulted in “alarming levels of casualties, refugees and displaced persons” and is “in violation of assurances given to me.”
Syrian state forces executed nine women and children inside a house in Deir Baalba neighborhood of Homs, the Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Fighters of the Free Syrian Army in the town of Jisr el-Shughour in Idlib province shot down an army helicopter during a fight against regime forces, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement.
In Rome yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI called on the Syrian government in his Easter message to end the bloodshed.
‘End to Bloodshed’
“In Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community,” the pope said, according to The Associated Press.
UN statements that the government will withdraw troops from residential areas by April 10 are “a wrong explanation,” Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Maqdisi said in a statementpublished by the official Syrian Arab News Agency. Annan “didn’t submit to the Syrian government written guarantees until now that the armed terrorist groups have accepted to stop all kinds of violence and lay down their arms.”
Syria accused “armed terrorist groups” of increasing attacks during the last few days, SANA reported two days ago, citing two government letters to the president of the UN Security Council and the UN secretary general.
Syria says it is fighting foreign terrorists, armed gangs and Islamists, and blames countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the U.S. for aiding the opposition.
Ersat Hurmuzlu, an adviser to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, said it’s unreasonable for the Syrian regime to demand written guarantees from outsiders that opposition forces would comply with a cease-fire when they’ve agreed to the Annan plan. The government is just trying to win more time, he said in a telephone interview with Al Arabiya television.
The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, called on the “UN and its Security Council to intervene urgently to stop the humanitarian crisis caused by the regime against the unarmed Syrian people,” according to a statement posted on its Facebook page. “Despite the SNC’s readiness to cooperate with Mr. Kofi Annan, we cannot give the murderous regime a license to kill,” it said.