U.S. warns Syria not to deceive

BEIRUT -The United States warned Syria not to try 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. In 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 Earlier last week, the government claimed it had withdrawn from several areas.

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 last week.

In Saudi Arabia, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation said Saturday that it believes about 1 million of Syria’s 23 million residents need humanitarian assistance. The OIS said it would provide $70 million in aid, including food and medical supplies. It already has sent nine trucks with relief to the areas most in need.

Source: Associated press

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