Syrian troops 'start to withdraw'04/04/2012 - 07:23:46
Syrian troops have begun pulling out from some cities and heading back to their bases a week ahead of a deadline to implement an international ceasefire plan, a government official said.
The claim could not immediately be verified and activists near the capital Damascus denied troops were leaving their area. They said the day regime forces withdraw from streets, Syria will witness massive protests that will overthrow the government.
“Forces began withdrawing to outside calm cities and are returning to their bases, while in tense areas, they are pulling out to the outskirts,” the government official said without saying when the withdrawal began.
President Bashar Assad agreed just days ago to an April 10 deadline to implement international envoy Kofi Annan’s truce plan.
It requires regime forces to withdraw from towns and cities and observe a ceasefire. Rebel fighters are to immediately follow by ceasing violence.
Khaled al-Omar, an activist in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, denied that any withdrawal was under way in his area.
“This is impossible. I can see a checkpoint from my window,” he said, adding the regime forces were still in the main square.
Earlier in the day, opposition activists claimed that the regime was racing to crush opponents ahead of the ceasefire deadline by carrying out intense raids, arrests and shelling.
Opposition activists have blasted Mr Annan’s plan as too little, too late and are particularly angry that it does not call for Assad to leave power – the central demand of the uprising.
They suspect Assad will manipulate the plan and use it to stall for time while his forces continue to crack down.
“He thinks he can win more time to take control of all Syrian cities,” activist Adel al-Omari said by phone from the southern town of Dael.
“This won’t happen, because as soon as he withdraws his tanks from the cities, the people will come out and push to topple the regime.”
Western leaders have cautiously accepted the April 10 deadline while pointing out that Assad has broken previous promises and insisting the regime must be judged by its actions.
Yesterday, Amnesty International said people are still being arrested across Syria, including 13 students who were beaten at their school in the Damascus suburb of Daraya.
The organisation said it received the names of 232 individuals, including 17 children, who were reported to have been killed since Syria agreed to the plan on March 27.
“The evidence shows that Assad’s supposed agreement to the Annan plan is having no impact on the ground,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA.#
She said the government must release thousands of prisoners, stop arrests and halt violence, adding that: “Otherwise, the only conclusion we can draw is that Syria has made empty promises once more.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Syria had informed its close ally Moscow that it has started implementing the plan. The ministry’s statement did not say which troops – if any – had been withdrawn or provide further details. It called on rebel forces to follow suit.
The Syrian government has not commented publicly on the April 10 deadline. It has accepted other peace plans in recent months only to ignore them on the ground.
An Arab League effort that included sending in monitors to promote a ceasefire collapsed in violence in November.
It also remains unclear whether rebel forces fighting government troops under the banner of the Free Syrian Army would respect a ceasefire. Dozens of local militias in different parts of the country have only loose links to each other and to their official leadership in Turkey.
Syrian activists said there have been explosions and clashes in several parts of the country even as the government claimed it had started to withdraw troops from some cities in compliance with the international ceasefire plan.
Opposition figure Mohammed Saleh said there had been a series of loud blasts in the central Homs region and heavy machine gun fire in parts of the old city.
Activist Mohammed Saeed, in the Damascus suburb of Douma, said regime troops were carrying out raids and arrests. He said tanks and checkpoints remain in place.
more stories like this:
- once per day, no spam.