Annan sets April 12 as Syria ceasefire, violence continues
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said Thursday both Syria government forces and opposition rebels had committed to a ceasefire starting April 12 at 6 am local time, dpa reported.
"I urge the government and the opposition commanders to issue clear instructions so that the message reaches across the country, down to the fighter and soldier at the local level," Annan told the UN General Assembly in New York.
The ceasefire is part of a plan proposed by Annan to end the conflict, which started more than a year ago with mass protests to demand the President Bashar al-Assad step down.
Annan said Thursday Damascus had issued instructions to its armed forces to start pulling back from populated areas, to halt new troops movements as well as end the use of heavy weapons.
He said "interlocutors" in the opposition had expressed commitment and readiness to cease the violence within 48 hours of April 10, in line with demands by the UN Security Council.
"All parties must immediately cease all violence," Annan said in a videoconference with the UN agency.
He added that the ceasefire was the top priority in his six-point plan that Damascus had agreed to implement.
The 15-nation council Thursday issued a statement supporting Annan's plan that also calls for access to humanitarian services and talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.
The council added it was ready to "authorize an effective and impartial supervision mechanism upon implementation of a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties."
In Damascus, a UN advance team discussed with Syrian officials the deployment of peace observers, as activists reported new violence around the country.
"The team is already in Syria. They are the guests of the Syrian government. Their talks are being held at the Foreign Ministry," UN spokesman in Syria Khaled al-Masri told dpa.
A UN source has said Major General Robert Mood from Norway, who has vast experience in peacekeeping missions, will be heading the observer mission once a ceasefire is in place.
"The focus of the UN team's talks is on the logistics, once a ceasefire is implemented, and where the monitors will be positioned," a Western diplomat based in Beirut told dpa.
"There will be some 250-300 observers and the UN has already started to ask member states if they would like to send troops to participate in the mission," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Syrian state-run media reported that troops had withdrawn from some areas in Daraa in the south, Idlib in the north, and Zabadani on the outskirts of Damascus. The opposition dismissed the report.
"What kind of a withdrawal is the regime talking about?" Waldi al- Buni, a Syrian opposition politician, said. "Today there are military operations across Syria and more reinforcements on the ground."
At least eight Syrian soldiers were killed in fierce fighting with army defectors in the district of Deir Balaba in the volatile province of Homs, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Seven civilians were killed in government shelling of the province, added the group added.
Activists near Damascus told dpa that troops had attacked the city's suburban area of Douma, adding it was the worst assault on the area since an anti-government uprising started in March 2011.
At least five civilians were killed in the attack, they said.
"The regime is now focusing on Douma because they believe a number of the opposition Syrian Free Army are hiding inside the area and are planning attacks inside the capital," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The observatory said troops had clashed with army defectors in the northern towns of Hraytan and Anadan near Syria's third largest city of Aleppo. Three people were killed in the fighting, it added.
The state news agency SANA reported that authorities had foiled an infiltration attempt into Homs by an "armed terrorist group" in neighbouring Lebanon. "One terrorist was arrested while the others fled," it added.
News from Syria is hard to verify as the government bars most foreign media from restive areas.
More than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict started, according to the UN.