Syria Accepts Envoy Peace Plan But Fighting Persists

Posted March 28th, 2012 at 2:00 am (UTC-5)
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Syria's acceptance of a cease-fire drawn up by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan is being greeted with skepticism by Western diplomats and Syrian opposition figures, as fighting continued between government forces and rebels.

Opposition members accuse Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of agreeing to the plan to stall for time as his troops make a renewed push to kill off areas of dissent. Louay Safi of the Syrian National Council said Tuesday the group has “no trust in the current regime” and “is not sure if it is political maneuvering or a sincere act.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Syria's acceptance an “important initial step” and said what matters now is action.

“Given Assad's history of over-promising and under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate actions. We will judge Assad's sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says. If he is ready to bring this dark chapter in Syria's history to a close, he can prove it by immediately ordering regime forces to stop firing and begin withdrawing from populated areas.”

She urged both the Syrian government and the opposition to take steps in the coming days to end the bloodshed.

The United Nations said Tuesday the number of people killed in Syria's crackdown has risen to more than 9,000, an increase of about 1,000 over the world body's previous estimate.

In remarks to the U.N. Security Council, Middle East envoy Robert Serry said violence in Syria continues “unabated” and preventing a further escalation of the conflict is “urgent.” Damascus blames the revolt on what it says are foreign-backed terrorists.

Several U.S. senators told VOA the Syrian leader must step down, a move not mandated by Mr. Annan's peace plan. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said “negotiations with a barbaric regime are going nowhere.”

“We should be unified as an international world community, say [to Assad] 'You are going to go. You have got to go'. We should have safe havens for the Syrian people who are being slaughtered. They should have the ability to defend themselves by having the Arab League and others provide them with weapons and training.”

Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson said he does not know of “any solution that makes sense with Mr. Assad in place.”

The diplomatic moves came as pro-Assad forces pursued rebels who have taken refuge across the Lebanese border. There were conflicting reports about whether Syrian troops physically crossed the frontier into Lebanon during heavy fighting near a rural area around the Lebanese village of Qaa. Lebanese military sources denied Syrian troops or vehicles had entered their territory.

Opposition activists reported at least 10 people killed across Syria Tuesday as troops fired at civilians and battled rebels in several parts of the country – including the northwestern province, Idlib, the Damascus suburbs and the central city, Homs.

Also Tuesday, several hundred Syrian opposition figures met in Istanbul in an attempt to unify their ranks and win greater recognition from Western and Arab nations in an anti-Assad coalition calling itself the “Friends of Syria.” Istanbul is due to host a conference of those nations on Sunday.

Syrian National Council members drafted a declaration calling for a post-Assad Syria to be a “civic and democratic state.” But veteran Syrian dissident Haitham al Maleh withdrew from the Istanbul meeting, accusing the SNC of ignoring differing opposition voices.