While violence reportedly raged just outside of Damascus, a United Nations spokesman reiterated that the Syrian regime is supposed to carry out a peace plan by Tuesday, pulling its troops out of populated areas and starting a 48-hour cease-fire as part of the six-point plan.
“The clock starts ticking on April 10 for both sides to cease all forms of violence,” spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said Thursday in Geneva.
Fawzi said U.N. negotiators had no doubt the Syrian government has committed to the deadline and that opposition fighters will lay down their arms if the government keeps its word. The regime has said troops are already being withdrawn from the cities of Dara, Idlib and Zabadani, he said.
The plan brokered by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan is the latest attempt to halt the bloodshed in Syria, where more than 10,000 opposition fighters, government forces and civilians are believed to have perished since an uprising against President Bashar Assad was sparked just over a year ago.
Dissidents and Western leaders have been skeptical that the government will follow the plan, fearing that Assad is simply buying time during negotiations to try to crush the rebels. Their fears were underscored when a Syrian official reportedly argued the regime isn’t really bound to pull out troops by the chosen date, in contradiction with what Fawzi said.
April 10 marks “the beginning of army unit’s withdrawal and not the end. It is not a deadline by itself,” an unnamed Syrian official was reportedly quoted in the newspaper Al Watan.
With less than a week before hostilities are supposed to stop, rebels and the regime say violence has continued. Opposition activists say tanks stormed the Damascus suburb of Douma in a fierce assault, shelling and armed clashes are underway in Idlib and Homs is still under military attack.
Syrian state media reported Thursday on the funerals of army and law enforcement officers killed at the hands of “armed terrorist groups,” its usual term for the opposition fighters, and said Syrian authorities had foiled a terrorist plot to infiltrate Syria from Lebanese territories.
Opposition activists have continued to share videos attesting to the ongoing violence in the country. Such footage has provided a window onto the conflict, though the Syrian government often disputes its accuracy, which cannot be independently verified. In the first clip below, a man walks down a street purportedly in the Joura al-Sheyah neighborhood of Homs, talking about shelling. In front of him, black smoke is seen billowing to the sky:
The second clip appears to show the same man coming under sniper fire on a deserted street. "Everything in front of their eyes is shelled," he says. "Everything in front of their eyes is hit, anything that moves in the roads is hit." Then a hail of bullets is heard.
The man starts running down the street, apparently ducking his head to dodge the gunfire. He stops after a distance and the camera zooms in on what appear to be damaged shops and residential buildings. "Complete destruction. The shops, the houses," he says:
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Syrian youth stand in a building damaged by tank shells in a neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, on Thursday. Credit: Associated Press