US Checks Syrian Troop Pullout

Posted April 7th, 2012 at 10:50 am (UTC-5)
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The Syrian government appears to have stepped up its efforts to crush dissent, ahead of a Tuesday deadline it earlier agreed to that calls for a halt to all military action.

Activists say at least 56 people were killed across the country on Saturday in government shelling and clashes between security and opposition forces.

Rights groups say many of the deaths occurred after military forces launched an an assault on a town in the central Hama region.

As the unrest unfolded, thousands of Syrians rallied in Damascus to mark the 65th anniversary of the creation of the ruling Baath Party. Many demonstrators waved the red, black and green Syrian flag or pictures of President Bashar al-Assad.

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

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the Syrian government appears to have pulled out of some towns and cities ahead of an April 10 U.N.-Arab League brokered cease-fire deadline.

However, he says in other locations, it appears the government has only moved troops from one place to another or has kept its artillery units near residential areas.

Ford's statement on the embassy's Facebook page, late Friday, was accompanied by before and after satellite images of the reported pullouts.

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.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday sharply criticized the Syrian government for its continued assault on civilians. Mr. Ban said the cease-fire deadline “is not an excuse for continued killing.”

International peace envoy Kofi Annan says the Syrian government has made little progress toward ending its yearlong crackdown on dissent.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a year ago.