Fighting continues in Syria despite cease-fire deadline
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Shelling and shooting in Syrian towns continued Tuesday, violating the United Nations-backed peace plan that was to end violence in the 13-month anti-government uprising.
Activists reported at least 23 people killed by midday, including 17 in the city of Homs, which was under continued shelling. Videos from inside Syria purported to show tanks still inside cities and helicopters flying overhead, in direct violation of the peace plan, which required a withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from urban areas.
Since the Syrian government agreed April 1 to the plan negotiated by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan, the country has seen continued violence in much of the country, leaving at least hundreds dead and widespread destruction as tanks and helicopters pounded cities and towns.
In a news conference in Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said some army units had been withdrawn from provinces and that "a number of detainees who were arrested for vandalism were released."
"Despite these positive steps, the armed terrorist groups escalated their operations, which spread into other governorates," he said. Syrian officials frequently refer to the opposition as terrorist groups.
The ongoing hostilities brought strong condemnation from world leaders who promised strong action in response to what appeared to be the regime’s backtracking on its promise.
But it brought mostly cynicism from activists who never held out hope for the promises of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Local Coordination Committees said in a statement that from the beginning it had questioned the regime’s willingness to implement the plan.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the regime will be held accountable for its actions, including what he described as violating the sovereignty of Turkey and Lebanon in cross-border firing that killed at least three people on Monday.
“There is no evidence so far that the Assad regime has any intention of adhering to any agreement it makes,” he said. “But if this process fails, Britain is ready to return to the U.N. Security Council to call again for a united international response to this clear threat to international peace and security.”
Hague added that his government will begin the process of having the Security Council refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu cut short a trip to China on Tuesday and will return to Turkey to closely watch the developments at the Turkish-Syrian border, the semi-official news agency Anatolia reported.
Davutoglu was accompanying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the trip. Erdogan said his country would do what it could under international laws in response to Monday’s shooting by Syrian soldiers across the border, Anatolia reported.
“We will do what is the most right thing to do,” he said. “You can clearly see how individuals are running away from Syria. They are running away from death. We cannot shut down our doors to these people.”
-- Rima Marrouch and Times staff
Photo: This image made from amateur video released by the Syrian Media Council purports to show smoke rising Tuesday following shelling in Homs, Syria. Credit: Syrian Media Council via Associated Press.