Violence rages in Syria despite high-level diplomacy

Clashes, shelling and raids erupted across Syria on Wednesday as high-level diplomats worked to foster peace in the restive country.

Syrian activist groups report government-instigated violence in the provinces of Homs, Idlib, the Damascus countryside and Deir Ezzor. At least 54 people have been killed on Wednesday across Syria, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

Military aircraft renewed their shelling on the opposition-held city of Taftanaz, dissidents in the nearby city of Binnish said Wednesday. Both are in Idlib province.

“The residents of Binnish are fleeing,” an activist said, but people in Taftanaz “are not able to flee because they are surrounded by the Syrian army.”

The LCC count has six dead in Idlib, but one activist in Binnish is reporting at least 20 deaths in Taftanaz.

The United Nations has estimated at least 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the unrest began more than a year ago, while opposition activists have come up with higher figures. The LCC has documented more than 11,000, and another group, the Strategic Communications and Research Center, said more than 12,000 have died.

President Bashar Al-Assad’s government told U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on Monday that the government would pull its troops from cities in response to Annan’s six-point peace plan to halt the bloodshed.

The plan calls for authorities to pull their forces from and stop troop movement toward population centers as well as ending the use of heavy weapons. It also urges a ceasefire by the government and the opposition and a Syrian-led political process to end the crisis.

A U.N. advance peacekeeping team is headed to Damascus for talks on deploying observers to monitor a ceasefire and should arrive by Thursday, Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

But opposition activists scoffed at the government’s promise to withdraw forces.

Since the regime made a commitment to withdraw troops, violence has raged, they say. Along with the deaths on Wednesday, at least 74 people were killed across the country on Tuesday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

One man in Hama, identified only as Manhal for safety reasons, described the government pronouncements as “lies.”

“This is not my thought, this is the truth of my camera (this) morning,” he said Wednesday. “Videos speak more than words.”

Manhal sent a video showing armored personnel vehicles and trucks pulling into town.

“Now tanks are moving like taxis in the streets,” going from neighborhood to neighborhood arresting people, Manhal said.

The Syrian regime has consistently blamed “armed terrorist groups” for violence in Syria, but most reports from inside the country suggest the government is pummeling neighborhoods in an attempt to wipe out dissidents seeking al-Assad’s ouster.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported funeral processions for 16 army and law enforcement members slain “by armed terrorist groups while on duty in Aleppo, Idlib, Damascus countryside, Daraa, Homs and Hama.”

Jakob Kellenberger, the International Committee of the Red Cross president, has been visiting Syria to discuss better access for humanitarians and to detained people. An ICRC delegation visited Daraa.

“I had visits in Damascus with ministers of government with whom I had various things to discuss. But for me it is always important to get an impression from the field, and that is why we decided we would make a visit to the governorate of Daraa because it is always important you see things also in the field. That is why I am here,” he said.

SANA said an “armed terrorist group on Wednesday” torched a warehouse with food and medicine owned by the Homs branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Homs branch. There was material damage but no casualties.

Countries in the West and the Arab world are supporting the Syrian opposition and want al-Assad to step aside.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that those entities goading the Syrian opposition are not helping the peace process, according to Russian media.

“In Syria they want to solve the conflict with the government by egging on the opposition. That’s no way to reach a settlement,” state-run RIA Novosti reported, quoting Lavrov.

He said opposition forces want foreign intervention.

“Even if the Syrian opposition is armed to teeth it will not be able to beat the government forces. That is why they are relying on the involvement of external forces,” Lavrov said.

Russia, along with China, has repeatedly quashed attempts by fellow U.N. Security Council members to pass a resolution condemning the al-Assad regime. Both countries have major trade ties to Syria — including Russian arms sales to the Syrian government — but both have denied protecting a regime.

Speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, Lavrov said Russia will be hosting opposition delegations.

“It makes sense to convince them that we want to help solve this problem,” he said.

CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the video nor confirm accounts of violence in Syria, as the government has severely restricted access to the country by foreign journalists.

Al-Assad’s family has ruled Syria for more than four decades. Largely peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011 led to a violent crackdown. Some opposition members and defectors from al-Assad’s regime have since taken up arms against the government forces.

Source: CNN

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