Wednesday 11 April 2012
British Syrians & Friends in Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution: We’ve often posted videos of flashmobs in the UK & around the world that aim to raise awareness, well a group of activists in Kafrsouseh, Syria staged their own flashmob in Shaam City Centre with a clapping crowd. Amazing!!! It didn’t take long for security to tell them to get & stop, but an amazing show of defiance in the capital!
UN NEWS: The Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan, today received a letter from the Syrian Government informing him of its decision “to cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 6:00 a.m. (Damascus time) tomorrow, Thursday, 12 April 2012,” Mr. Annan’s spokesperson said today.
The letter, from Syria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, added that the Syrian Government reserved “the right to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups against civilians, Government forces or public and private property,” the spokesperson, Ahmad Fawzi, said in a statement issued in Geneva.
Last week, the Syrian Government told Mr. Annan that it would complete the withdrawal of troops by 10 April. The Envoy had previously stated that, once that happens, all parties should move immediately to cease all forms of violence, so that a complete cessation is in place by Thursday, 12 April.
The UN estimates that more than 8,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed, and tens of thousands have been displaced since protests in Syria – part of the broader Arab Spring movement across North Africa and the Middle East – began in March last year.
In his statement, Mr. Fawzi added that the Joint Special Envoy will continue to work with the Syrian Government and the opposition to ensure the comprehensive implementation of his six-point plan to end the violence.
“The Joint Special Envoy looks forward to the continued support of relevant countries in this regard.” Mr. Fawzi said.
Mr. Annan’s proposal, which was submitted during his visit to Damascus last month, seeks to stop the violence and the killing, give access to humanitarian agencies, release detainees, and kick-start an inclusive political dialogue.
A UN team visited the country in recent days to start technical preparations for the potential deployment of observers to monitor a cessation of armed violence and the full implementation of Mr. Annan’s plan.
The Joint Special Envoy is expected to update the Security Council on Thursday.
[local time] 22:28 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she is alarmed about the “ongoing violence” in Syria on the eve of a ceasefire deadline.
21:48 The US envoy to the United Nations said Wednesday that even if Syria keeps to a promised ceasefire it will not be enough to comply with the peace plan of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
21:46 The Syrian army shelled the village of Jabal Shahshabou in the Hama district, Al-Jazeera television reported.
21:36 The Syrian forces shelled the city of Rastan in Homs, leaving seven people dead and others injured, Al-Jazeera television quoted activists as saying.
20:27 Western nations insist that Syria withdraw troops from cities as well as halt its attacks to be in compliance with a UN-Arab League peace plan, diplomats said Wednesday.
20:20 German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle Wednesday pressed Russia to distance itself from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s deadly crackdown on opposition rebels.
20:08 The United States said Wednesday that Syria will be judged by its actions after Damascus promised to respect a ceasefire set for Thursday.
20:08 International envoy Kofi Annan said Wednesday he had received a written pledge from the Syrian regime to halt fighting from dawn on Thursday in line with his UN and Arab League-backed peace plan.
19:58 Head of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Colonel Riad al-Asaad, told Al-Jazeera television on Wednesday that the Syrian regime “did not pull out its forces, but redeployed [them].”
19:09 The Syrian army on Wednesday shelled the towns of Joubar and Kafarlaha in Homs, Al-Jazeera television reported.
18:20 Twenty Syrian army tanks advanced to the city of Hama on Wednesday, Al-Arabiya television reported.
18:18 Russia on Wednesday said that Syria’s promise to cease military operations against rebel fighters from Thursday put the onus on the opposition to make a similar pledge.
17:28 Syria announced Wednesday that it will cease military operations against rebel fighters from Thursday, the day set by peace envoy Kofi Annan as the deadline for a halt to 13 months of bloodshed.
13:15 Syrian security forces stormed the town of Wadi Barda near Damascus on Wednesday, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
12:33 Syrian forces are shelling the Zabadani area of Jabal as-Sharqi, activists told Al-Arabiya television.
12:16 Syrian security forces killed seven people on Wednesday, activists told Al-Jazeera television.
11:19 Syrian security forces heavily shelled Homs’ Jouret al-Shiyah, Al-Arabiya reported on Wednesday.
10:34 The Syrian army is shelling the Homs neighborhood of Al-Khaldiyeh, activists told Al-Arabiya.
10:28 China on Wednesday called on Syria to heed a plan aimed at bringing peace to the conflict-ridden country, saying it was “deeply concerned” by the situation.
9:22 UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said the situation in Syria should be “much improved” by a Thursday deadline if both sides in the conflict respect a peace plan he drew up.
8:06 Shots fired by Syrian forces early Wednesday hit a Syrian refugee camp just across the border with Turkey, Turkish media reported.
7:39 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she would tell Russia that the risk of civil war was rising in Syria, adding that she expected “rough” diplomacy ahead.
7:38 Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight (G8) major economies open talks in Washington later Wednesday as pressure for international action mounts over security fears about Syria.
7:36 Growing demands for tough UN Security Council action on Syria are putting increasing pressure on Russia’s diplomatic shield around President Bashar al-Assad.
7:33 France on Tuesday charged that the Syrian regime had lied to UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan over complying with a peace plan and was flouting the commitments it undertook as part of the deal.
7:30 MORNING LEADER: Global leaders on Tuesday accused Syria of failing to begin implementing a ceasefire deal as regime forces pounded protest hubs on the deadline day, with 28 civilians among more than 50 people killed. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council called on the regime to keep a Thursday deadline for a complete ceasefire in the Syria conflict.
7:30 Turkey said late Tuesday that it expects the UN Security Council to take action to protect civilians if Syria fails to abide by a Thursday deadline for a total ceasefire.
Syria promised to observe a U.N.-backed ceasefire starting on Thursday, but its forces kept up fierce attacks on opposition neighborhoods in the hours before the deadline.
A Syrian defense ministry source quoted on state television on Wednesday said the army would halt operations on Thursday morning, but would confront “any assault” by armed groups.
The report made no mention, however, of withdrawing troops from urban areas – something that was supposed to start on Tuesday under a peace plan agreed with international envoy Kofi Annan. And even as the ceasefire pledge was being broadcast, activists were reporting more tanks moving in to a major city.
A spokesman for Annan, mandated by the United Nations and Arab League, said the Syrian government had given the former U.N. secretary general an assurance it would stop fighting by the dawn deadline he has set for a cessation of hostilities.
But he also stressed that troops should pull back.
Quoting from a letter to Annan from the Syrian foreign ministry, the envoy’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the government had undertaken “to cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) 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”.
Russia, a powerful defender of President Bashar al-Assad against Western and Arab pressure, pointedly said that the rebels battling to oust him must honor the ceasefire too.
Insurgents, who lack a clearly coordinated command structure, said they would stop shooting if Syrian forces pull back and observe the truce as promised.
“The defense ministry announcement is a detour on Annan’s plan which clearly says he should pull back the tanks and end violence. We will wait until tomorrow and see. We will not act before tomorrow,” Qassem Saad al-Deen, Free Syrian Army spokesman inside Syria, told Reuters.
Few in the Syrian opposition believe Assad has any intention of complying with Annan’s plan to end 13 months of bloodshed.
“Annan, this is your ceasefire,” ran the sarcastic voiceover on an activist video that showed a shopping mall engulfed in flames after it was hit in bombardment of the Juret al-Shayah district of Homs. Sniper fire cracked out in the background.
At least 12 people were killed on Wednesday, activists said.
Western powers too, have scorned Assad’s truce pledges, but so far lack an effective policy to curb the bloodshed, given their own aversion to military intervention and the resistance of Russia and China to any U.N. Security Council action.
“..commitments have been made and made and made and broken and broken and broken,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had a similar assessment. “Far from fulfilling their commitment, the regime has cynically exploited the window of diplomatic negotiations to crack down even harder on its own people,” he said.
Activist videos posted on YouTube showed bombs crashing into the Khalidiya district of Homs.
Pulverized debris rose high into the air with each impact and plumes of dust and smoke drifted over the rooftops. The videos could not be verified and the Syrian government bars most independent media from the country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said three people were killed in Homs. Shelling killed a man, woman and child in Qusair near the border with Lebanon. Three people were killed near Damascus, the British-based opposition group said.
“Mortar fire started at 7 this morning. I can hear one explosion every five minutes,” said activist Waleed al-Fares in Homs, where bombardment killed at least 26 people on Tuesday.
If Assad fails to respect a ceasefire, the world should unite against him, using an arms embargo and other sanctions, the main opposition group said, hours before the truce deadline.
“The chances that by tomorrow the regime will implement or abide by the ceasefire are weak, as we all know,” Syrian National Council spokeswoman Basma Kodmani said.
“We would like to see a unanimous decision by members of the Security Council that sends an ultimatum to the regime with a deadline that is not too far down the road that says on such and such a date enforcement measures will intervene,” she said.
U.N. action would need the support of Russia and China, which have blocked previous Security Council draft resolutions on Syria, citing concerns about a Libya-style intervention that would breach Syrian sovereignty.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday to seek a policy change from one of Assad’s few foreign friends.
“We will have another go at trying to persuade the Russians that the situation is deteriorating and the likelihood of regional conflict and civil war is increasing,” she said.
China expressed “deep worries” about the violence in Syria and called for all sides to respect a ceasefire.
Turkey, hosting nearly 25,000 Syrian refugees, said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would speak with counterparts from the Group of Eight major nations on Wednesday by telephone. Across its border with Syria, fighting raged on Wednesday evening, refugees at the border town of Kilis said.
Ankara has urged the Security Council to adopt a resolution that would protect the Syrian people, saying Damascus had not kept its troop withdrawal pledge and had increased the violence.
Annan said his plan, endorsed by the Council, must be given a chance to work: “If everyone respects it, I think by 6 in the morning on Thursday we shall see improved conditions on the ground,” he said in Tehran, where he was asking Syria’s staunchest regional ally to support his efforts.
An activist in the city of Hama said at least 20 armored vehicles had newly moved into two central neighborhoods, while an opposition supporter in Rastan, between Hama and Homs, said heavy shelling of the town began after the announcement by the Syrian government that it would respect the ceasefire.
The SOHR said two people were killed in army raids in Deir al-Zor in the Euphrates river valley far to the east. Artillery shelled the Jebel Akrad area in the coastal province of Latakia.
In Deraa, cradle of the revolt against four decades of Assad family rule, activists said troops backed by armored vehicles had flooded the city and were making house-to-house raids.
Activist Omar al-Hariri said he had never seen so many troops: “The army is exploiting the ceasefire to arrest more dissidents than ever and security forces are burning houses.”
“PART OF THE SOLUTION”
Annan, at a news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, urged Iran to help resolve the violence and warned of “unimaginable consequences” if it worsened further.
Salehi said Syrians should be able to have free elections contested by political parties, but reiterated Iran’s opposition to any outside interference in Syria’s affairs and made clear the Islamic Republic wanted Assad to stay in charge.
“The opportunity must be given to the Syrian government to make changes, under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad,” he said.
Iran has unstintingly backed Syria, the only Arab nation to support Iran in its 1980-88 war with Iraq and the conduit for Iranian arms to Lebanon’s Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah movement.
Syria, where Assad’s Shi’ite-rooted Alawite minority dominates a Sunni Muslim majority, has become an arena for a sectarian-tinged regional contest between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Arab rivals aligned with the West and led by Saudi Arabia.
For now, no end to Syria’s agony is in sight.
Assad’s forces have killed more than 9,000 people in the past year, according to a U.N. estimate. Damascus says rebels have killed more than 2,600 soldiers and security personnel.
“This is a decisive moment,” Cameron said, adding – in remarks clearly pointed at Moscow and Beijing – that the Security Council now had “a clear responsibility” to throw its weight behind Annan’s plan and insist it is implemented.
(Additional reporting by Marcus George in Dubai, Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations, Sui-Lee Wee and Sabrina Mao in Beijing, Paul Eckert in Annapolis, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Oliver Holmes and Dominic Evans in Beirut and Mohammed Abbas in Jakarta; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Philippa Fletcher)
Interview: Syria opposition urges UN unity if ceasefire fails 10:01am EDT
Syrian army moves into Hama, shells Rastan – activists 11:40am EDT
Syria says to comply with truce: Annan12:08pm EDT
U.S. dismisses credibility of Syria ceasefire pledge5:12pm EDT
A ceasefire for Syria proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is due to come into force in the next few hours, but Western countries have publicly doubted Syria’s willingness to comply.
On Wednesday, Syria said it would abide by the ceasefire but reserved the right to respond to attacks.
The US said Syria’s pledge held “little if any credibility”.
The main armed rebel group said it would not stop shooting if government troops continued to attack.
Mr Annan received written assurances from the Syrian foreign ministry that government troops would “cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 06:00 (03:00 GMT)… while reserving the right to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups”, his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi said.
Commitments ‘broken’US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice described the caveats in the letter as “worrying” and added that the onus was on the Syrian regime to halt the violence.“Nothing casts more doubt on the credibility of the commitments than the fact that commitments have been made and made and made and broken and broken and broken,” she told reporters in New York.
“Far from fulfilling their commitment, the [Syrian] regime has cynically exploited the window of diplomatic negotiations to crack down even harder on its own people,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said.
But Russia – one of Syria’s closest allies – said the rebels must respond with their own ceasefire.
Syria said it would halt operations against what it called “the criminal acts of armed terrorist groups” on Thursday morning.
The announcement on state TV made no mention of the withdrawal from urban areas which, under the Annan plan, should have been completed by Tuesday.
‘Regime won’t stop’Meanwhile, the violence continued on Wednesday, especially in the city of Homs.
Activists said at least 30 people were killed in offensives around the country, including the north and north-west, a valley west of Damascus, and in the south, near Deraa.
A spokesman for the main rebel force, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said the ceasefire was unlikely to take effect because neither side would stop shooting.“If the other side stopped, the Syrian people would march on the president’s palace on the same day. This means the regime won’t stop,” Captain Ayham al-Kurdi said in a BBC interview on the Turkey-Syria border.
The BBC’s UN correspondent, Barbara Plett, says Mr Annan has been in contact with Iran, as well as Russia, asking them to use their influence.
If he fails, some Council members have said they will push for tougher action – not military intervention, but perhaps sanctions, our correspondent says.
However, there is no guarantee Russia and China would agree; they have already vetoed two Security Council resolutions on Syria.
Mr Annan is due to brief the UN Security Council later on Thursday.
The UN estimates about 9,000 people have died since anti-government protests began in March 2011. In February, the Syrian government put the death toll at 3,838 – 2,493 civilians and 1,345 security forces personnel.
Analysis: Jim Muir BBC News, Beirut
A huge amount of pressure has been mounted to bring about the agreement of all sides to the Annan truce.
Above all, Russia must have exerted powerful influence behind the scenes to induce the change of tune by the Damascus regime.
China and Iran, Syria’s other two important international friends, have also strongly backed the Annan mission and may have helped bend President Bashar al-Assad’s ear.
Mr Annan’s priority was to stop the carnage. If that can be achieved, and stabilised by the insertion of UN observers, huge challenges will remain – above all, working towards an workable political settlement.
Again, Russia is poised to play a crucial role. Much will depend on what vision it has for Syria’s future – perhaps regime mutation rather than the regime change sought by the opposition and its western backers.
Guardian: Syrian promise to halt attacks met with scepticism: Syria’s announcement to comply with Kofi Annan’s UN-backed plan for ceasefire receives mixed international response