Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Syrian military 'randomly firing on civilians,' opposition says

120331095747-syria-rally-flag-story-top Despite a recent promise by the Syrian government to withdraw its forces from population centers, the military pounded opposition-held northern towns and clashed with defectors, activists said Tuesday.

The Syrian army shelled Binnish, Taftanaz and Taoum and its helicopters fired on fleeing civilians Tuesday, said the Binnish Coordination Committee, an opposition group.

"This is the most intense fighting we have witnessed thus far in Binnish since the beginning of the revolution," said Basher, an opposition activist. "We haven't see this much random shelling on Binnish and the surrounding areas. They are using helicopters and randomly firing on civilians in the cities."

Two civilians were killed in crossfire and shelling in Taftanaz, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Clashes erupted between the military and resistance fighters in the provinces of Daraa, Idlib and the Damascus countryside. A suspected militant group attacked the home of a military official, killing two of his bodyguards in Aleppo, the observatory said.

The violence comes a day after diplomats said the Syrian government agreed to start pulling its forces and will complete its withdrawal by April 10.

The Syrian foreign minister made that promise to U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan, according to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said Syria is committed to the success of Annan's peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of Syrian and opposition forces.

All forward deployment of government forces and use of heavy weapons should be halted as well, Rice said after Annan briefed the Security Council.

She said officials were awaiting details from the Syrian government on other aspects of Annan's six-point peace plan, including requests for humanitarian access, a daily two-hour pause in hostilities and access for the news media.

"The Syrian government is committed, but we are expecting Mr. Kofi Annan and some parties in the Security Council also to get the same kind of commitments from the other parties," Jaafari said. He said those "other parties" were groups "involved in initiating, sponsoring and arming the armed groups."

The Syrian regime has consistently blamed "armed terrorist groups" for violence in Syria, but most reports from inside the country suggest the government is pummeling neighborhoods in an attempt to wipe out dissidents seeking President Bashar al-Assad's ouster.

All Security Council members called for the Annan plan to be implemented immediately, Rice said.

But the U.S. ambassador expressed skepticism over the Syrians' promise.

"Let's be realistic," she said. "We've seen commitments to end the violence followed by massive intensification of the violence. The United States would say yet again, the proof is in the actions, not in the words."

A diplomatic team including some of Annan's staff members will return this week to Syria "to continue preparations for monitoring a supervisory mission" of the United Nations, Rice said.

Syria's withdrawal announcement came the same day that Russia -- which, along with China, has vetoed U.N. Security Council attempts to condemn the al-Assad regime -- pressured Damascus to withdraw its troops.

"But if the withdrawal of troops is not accompanied by similar actions of those who fight against the Syrian government, I believe that no results will be yielded soon," said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to the state-run Itar-Tass news agency.

The United Nations has estimated at least 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the unrest began more than a year ago, while opposition activists have put the toll at more than 10,000.


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