Fighting Continues as UN Team Heads to Syria

Posted April 5th, 2012 at 5:00 am (UTC-5)
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A United Nations peacekeeping team is heading to Syria to discuss a potential mission overseeing a cease-fire deal, while rights activists say government troops clashed with rebels in several towns across the country.

The activists reported shelling and heavy gunfire Thursday in the Damascus suburb of Douma and additional fighting in northern Aleppo province near the Turkish border.

A Turkish official said Thursday that as many as 1,000 Syrians fled into Turkey in the past day.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to the peace plan brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, which calls for government forces to halt violence by April 10.

U.N. Security Council members are weighing a presidential statement that “expresses its grave concern” that Syria has not yet implemented the deal.

In a draft obtained by VOA, the Security Council also demands that Mr. Assad's government “immediately and verifiably” stop the use of heavy weapons and pull military forces back from population centers. In turn, all other parties are to cease violence within 48 hours.

U.N. diplomats say the statement could be adopted Thursday. Mr. Annan is also scheduled to brief the U.N. General Assembly on the status of his mediation efforts.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against Mr. Assad began a year ago.

State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday the United States has not seen any independent reports of Syrian troop withdrawals.

“What we've seen, frankly, is an intensification of artillery bombardments in major population centers like Homs and Idlib. So we've yet to be convinced that they're – have any intention of complying with the April 10 deadline.”

Middle East analyst Christopher Phillips told VOA Wednesday the government crackdown will likely to continue until April 10.

“Given the regime has taken a largely militaristic approach to this uprising, you suspect their intention is to continue to oppress and be relatively violent right up to the 10th deadline as a means to crush the opposition as best it can before that deadline comes about.”

Phillips, an international relations lecturer at the University of London, said it is doubtful that Syria will uphold the provisions of Annan's peace plan.

“It's highly unlikely that he will abide by the terms entirely. I think this regime has decided a long time ago that its best route for survival is the military option. Its acceptance of this plan appears to be a play for time as they have done in the past with other plans such as the Arab League plan.”