Syrian Violence Escalates Ahead of Peace Deadline

Posted April 7th, 2012 at 12:45 pm (UTC-5)
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( Updates Syria CN 2291982, new lead and information in graphs 1 – 2, 4 – 5 and 7- 8; adds audio ))

Syrian forces have been pounding opposition strongholds ahead of an agreed Tuesday deadline for a halt to all military action.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an exile group, says more than 100 people were killed on Saturday, about two-thirds of them civilians. Many of the deaths occurred after military forces attacked a town in the central Hama region.

Rights groups and witnesses report military shelling and clashes between pro-government and opposition forces erupted in several regions.

Ausama Monajed, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Council, says the government is trying to crush dissent ahead of the April 10 deadline.

“We've seen this over and over again. This will never bear any fruit and the regime will always try to escalate the level of violence before any deadline.”

The Syrian government has promised to stop all military action by April 10 under terms of a peace agreement brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The agreement calls for the opposition to lay down its arms within 48 hours after the government fulfills its promise.

Monajed says the Syrian National Council backs the peace plan but doubts President Bashar al-Assad will abide by its provisions.

“Despite the fact that we supported the plan — and we still do — we do not think it is going to bear any fruit.”

On Friday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sharply criticized the Assad government for its continued assault on civilians and said the cease-fire deadline “is not an excuse for continued killing.”

The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began a year ago.

Elsewhere on Saturday, thousands of Syrians rallied in Damascus to mark the 65th anniversary of the creation of the ruling Baath Party. Many waved red, black and green Syrian flags or pictures of Mr. Assad.

Syrian state-run media reported pro-government rallies also took place in several other cities.