50 killed in fierce assault on Assad’s opponents
BEIRUT SYRIAN troops killed 50 people on Tuesday, pursuing a fierce assault on President Bashar al Assad’s opponents instead of silencing their big guns and leaving towns as promised under a fraying international peace plan.
United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said it was “a bit too early” to dismiss as a failure his attempt to halt 13 months of conflict and, in a letter to world powers in the UN Security Council, said Assad must make a “fundamental change of course” and adhere to a ceasefire due to begin on Thursday.
“The plan is still on the table,” he told a news conference in Turkey after visiting Syrian refugee camps and before flying on to Iran, a key sponsor of the Assad family’s 42-year rule.
The former UN chief’s plan, which calls for Syrian troops to pull back by the end of the day on Tuesday, won backing from Assad’s friends in Russia and China, as well as from Western, Arab and other nations struggling to find a way to deflect the Syrian leader from his bloody crackdown on a popular uprising.
Annan said he had information the Syrian military was withdrawing from some areas but moving to others not previously targeted. He appealed to all sides to stop violence and to set no conditions for a ceasefire due to start at dawn on Thursday.
“I had hoped that by now we would have been much further ahead along the road to the government of Syria honouring its commitments and all the parties beginning to take steps to end all violence,” he said, reiterating Thursday’s deadline.
“We still have time between now and the 12th to stop the violence.” In a letter to the Security Council, obtained by Reuters, Annan wrote: “The Syrian leadership should now seize the opportunity to make a fundamental change of course. “It is essential that the next 48 hours bring visible signs of immediate and indisputable change in the military posture of the government forces throughout the country,” he said, adding that the opposition also should cease fighting in order to “give no excuse for the government to renege on its commitments”.
Shelling of restive parts of Homs killed at least 26 people on Tuesday and five died in violence elsewhere, opposition groups said, but there was no sign of a military pullout, with tanks still in cities such as Homs and Hama.
Opposition activists say hundreds of Syrians have been killed since Assad accepted Annan’s proposals on March 27. Citing satellite images, a French foreign ministry spokesman endorsed that view and denounced a Syrian assurance that troops were, in fact, withdrawing as a “blatant lie”. The White House also saw no sign of a pullback: “Leaders of the Assad regime ... make a lot of promises,” spokesman Jay Carney said.