BEIRUT -- The Syrian government on Wednesday again promised a United Nations special envoy that it would stop attacks on cities and towns by Thursday morning.
In a letter from Foreign Minister Walid Moallem to envoy Kofi Annan, the regime vowed “to cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 6 a.m. [Damascus time] tomorrow, Thursday, 12 April 2012, while reserving the right to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups against civilians, government forces or public and private property.”
In keeping with the six-point peace plan Annan negotiated with Syria, the government was to have already withdrawn troops and heavy weapons from urban areas on Tuesday. Activists reported that more than 100 people were killed Tuesday in continued regime attacks from tanks, helicopters and snipers on cities and towns across the country.
The additional caveat by the regime that it reserved the right to respond to "armed terrorist groups" further suggested that the fighting would continue.
Since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011, when there were peaceful protests calling for reforms and eventually the ouster of President Bashar Assad, the regime has claimed to be fighting armed terrorist groups. It has blamed most of the killing and destruction on these groups, including the monthlong shelling of the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, which was widely seen as carried out by government forces.
Annan, who was visiting Tehran during the day, said there was still a chance to rescue the Thursday morning truce deadline for government troops and opposition fighters to cease all violence, news services reported.
"We've been in touch with them [Syrian rebels] and have had positive answers from them," he was quoted as saying. "I think by 6 in the morning on the 12th, Thursday, we should see a much improved situation on the ground."
"It is possible to do it and it should be in the interests of the people of Syria."
Annan also said that Iran, a longtime ally of the Assad government, could help in finding a solution to the conflict in Syria.
"The geopolitical location of Syria is such that any miscalculation and error can have unimaginable consequences," he said.
Activists reported 16 people were killed Wednesday, including six in Homs under shelling and five soldiers who had defected in Dara. The number is far lower than it has been in the past week, which had seen a spike in regime attacks since the government agreed to the peace plan on April 1. Activists estimate hundreds have been killed this month.
-- Times staff
Photo: A handout photograph made available by the opposition Local Coordination Committees in Syria on Tuesday shows the destroyed Muhathab Rajjoob Mall that was allegedly damaged by government forces' shelling in Homs, Syria. Credit: EPA / Local Coordination Committees.