Syrian Troops Assault Rebel Strongholds, Arabs Make New Diplomatic Push

Posted March 28th, 2012 at 10:40 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian rights activists say government forces have assaulted several rebel strongholds, as Arab nations made a new diplomatic effort to end Syria's year-long conflict.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad tried to storm the central town of Rastan, triggering a battle with rebels that killed three soldiers. The group says Syrian government troops also battled rebels in the northern town of Qalaat al-Madiq and the southern town of Daraa.

The violence continued a day after international envoy Kofi Annan said Syria had accepted his peace plan for a cease-fire and a dialogue between government and rebel forces. He also urged the Syrian government to implement the plan immediately.

Arab League foreign ministers expressed support for the Annan peace initiative at a meeting in Baghdad, where leaders of the regional bloc were expected to attend a summit on Thursday.

A draft resolution prepared by the ministers for approval at the summit calls on the Assad government to stop violent attacks on the opposition and allow peaceful protests.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Syria's implementation of Mr. Annan's plan is “more important than acceptance” and represents a “last chance” for the country to resolve its crisis peacefully.

A Syrian government spokesman said Damascus will reject any resolution passed by the Arab League on Syria. The bloc suspended Syria's membership last year to punish Damascus for continuing a deadly crackdown on an opposition uprising.

Western diplomats and Syrian opposition figures reacted skeptically to Syria's acceptance of the Annan proposals. Opposition members accused Mr. Assad of trying to stall for time as his troops make a renewed push to crush dissent.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Syrian president made an “important initial step,” but has a “history of over-promising and under-delivering” and must match his commitments with immediate actions.

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.