Syria rebels set ultimatum, as peace deal falters

Photo: Syria rebels set ultimatum, as peace deal falters / Arab World

Syrian rebels Tuesday gave government forces 48 hours to stop shelling restive areas of the country or face intensified attacks, an opposition spokesman said, while UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said there was still time to implement a peace plan to stop the violence, dpa reported.

"If the regime does not stop shelling and does not withdraw tanks from populated areas in the coming 48 hours, we will intensify our attacks on the Syrian military," Colonel Kassem Saadeddine, the opposition Syrian Free Army spokesperson, told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.

Saadeddine said despite the government's agreement to withdraw troops from populated areas and end the use of heavy weapons by Tuesday "we saw more killings, shelling and reinforcements."

Under Annan's six-point peace plan, the government of President Basher al-Assad had agreed to begin withdrawing forces from residential areas Tuesday morning and for a ceasefire to follow within 48 hours.

"We still have time ... to stop the violence" by the ceasefire deadline, Annan said during a press conference in Turkey.

The opposition said there was no sign the Syrian army was pulling out.

"Nothing has changed on the ground. All the tanks are still positioned inside populated areas. The regime has simply defied the UN plan, which was not a surprise," Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa.

"If the truce deal set by Annan collapses, Syria will be moving closer and closer to civil war," Abdul-Rahman said.

The opposition Syrian Local Coordination Committees, which document violence inside Syria, said 97 people, most of whom were civilians, were killed by government shelling in the central provinces of Hama and Homs.

Syrian government restrictions on the media make it difficult to independently verify reports from inside the country.

The UN Security Council on Tuesday expressed "concern" at the Syrian government's failure to draw down its forces.

"Members of the Security Council are unified in their concern that the (Tuesday) deadline has passed and the violence in the past 10 days has intensified," US Ambassador Susan Rice, the council president, told reporters in New York.

Annan, who visited a refugee camp in Turkey's Hatay province near the Syrian border, also called on the Syrian government to honor its commitment.

"This has gone on for too long and it is time for the violence to stop and for the military to go back to their barracks," Annan said.

"I appeal to all, the government in the first place ... to stop the violence," he added.

Speaking in Moscow, where he held talks with Russian officials, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Syria had "already pulled back some military units from certain Syrian provinces."

Annan said that he was unable to verify such reports, and that he had asked the UN Security Council to debate sending international peace observers to Syria to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire.

Al-Moallem told a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that any international observers must be neutral.

"Kofi Annan has told me in telephone conversations that his ceasefire plan would bring the complete disarmament of armed groups in Syria, but how would this be possible if deliveries of weapons to rebel forces, and their transfer into Syria, is going to continue thanks to Turkey?" al-Moallem said.

The Kremlin appeared to increase pressure on its traditional ally, with Lavrov calling on al-Assad to respect the ceasefire plan.

"We emphatically demand that our Syrian colleagues ... as they have promised, strictly fulfill the terms of the peace plan as laid out by Kofi Annan," Lavrov said.

The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said government forces killed some 1,000 people - mostly civilians - since President Bashar al-Assad announced two weeks ago that he would accept the peace plan.

"Yesterday was the worst day of the one-year revolution," with 168 people killed by the regime's forces, the council's head of foreign relations, Basma Kadmani, who is based in Paris, told dpa.

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