Syria Clashes Continue as Government Claims Troop Pullout

Posted April 4th, 2012 at 6:35 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian forces have launched fresh military operations just hours after the government said it had started to withdraw troops from some cities in compliance with an international cease-fire plan.

Activists said Wednesday tanks were storming and shelling several towns and villages. They said the operations were ongoing “from the Turkish border in the northeast to Daraa in the south.”

Several neighborhoods in the central city of Homs, a bastion of dissent against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's rule, were under attack.

The assaults took place despite Mr. Assad's agreeing to an April 10 deadline to implement a peace plan brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The plan requires government forces to withdraw from towns and cities and observe a cease-fire. Rebel fighters are to immediately follow by ceasing all violence.

Also Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Western and Arab nations against arming Syrian rebels, saying it would only escalate hostilities. Speaking on a trip to Azerbaijan, Lavrov said “even if the opposition is armed to the teeth, it wouldn't be able to defeat government forces.”

He warned that a foreign military intervention would lead to even more disastrous consequences for Syria, which has seen a yearlong uprising against President Assad that has killed more than 9,000 people.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two Sunni-ruled nations, have backed the idea of arming the opposition against Mr. Assad's Shi'ite-ruled government, but the West remains opposed. Western nations moved instead to create a fund for the rebels at a meeting in Istanbul.

Earlier, a spokesman for Mr. Annan announced that an advance U.N. team is due to arrive in Syria by Thursday. Ahmad Fawzi told VOA the team would work out the details of deploying international monitors to the country.

Middle East Institute scholar Wayne White told VOA a possible peacekeeping deployment and promises of a cease-fire from the Syrian leader are not necessarily indications that the government's crackdown on dissent is ending. White said he does not expect Mr. Assad to change his stance against the opposition.