Obama, Merkel: Assad not complying with Annan pact

Fierce fighting continues in countdown to Syria truce, deadline expires at 6 a.m.; UN observer planning team leaves Syria, no explanation given; US president, German chancellor agree UNSC must take stronger action.

By REUTERS
April 12, 2012 05:51
3 minute read.
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Obama 370. (photo credit: Youtube Screenshot)

 
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WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a phone conversation on Wednesday night that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad was not complying with a peace agreement negotiated by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, the White House said.

Damascus had agreed to a UN Security Council-backed deadline of Tuesday to withdraw troops from Syrian towns and stop using heavy weapons.

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That missed deadline was supposed to be followed by a full ceasefire by the Syrian army and opposition forces on Thursday morning, but fierce fighting has continued.

"On Syria, the president and chancellor shared the concern that the Assad government was not complying with the terms of the agreement negotiated by Kofi Annan and continued to engage in unacceptable brutality against its own people," the White House said in a statement about Obama's call with Merkel. "They agreed that this underscored the need for the UN Security Council to come together to take more resolute action."

Activists reported more tanks moving in to a major city even as a pledge to halt operations on Thursday morning was broadcast on state television. The Defense Ministry source quoted by the television giving the pledge on Wednesday also said the army would confront "any assault" by armed groups.

Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said on Wednesday night an advance planning team negotiating how UN observers would monitor the ceasefire had left Damascus after a week of talks.

He had no further comment on any progress reached by the team led by Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood, so it was not clear whether the deployment had been agreed or called off.

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Insurgents, who lack a clearly coordinated command structure, said they would stop shooting if Assad's forces withdrew and observed the truce.

"The Defence 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 on Wednesday.

At least 12 people were killed on Wednesday, activists said.

Western powers 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 UN Security Council action.

Quoting from a letter to Annan from the Syrian foreign ministry, 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".

He also stressed that troops should pull back.

Few in the Syrian opposition believe Assad has any intention of complying with Annan's plan to end 13 months of bloodshed.

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"On the eve of the deadline for the full implementation of the ceasefire in Syria, there is no sign on the ground of compliance by the regime," the main opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said in a statement.

Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, said in an interview on PBS' "Charlie Rose" program that his government was "on board" with the peace plan.

But he said government forces would remain on alert to "counterattacks" and that "legally speaking, there is a big difference between declaring a ceasefire and putting an end to the violence."

Activist videos posted on YouTube showed a shopping mall engulfed in flames after it was hit in bombardment of the Juret al-Shayah district of Homs and bombs crashing into the city's Khalidiya district. 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 and 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.

"Fighting is still raging as we speak, reflecting what has been an intensification of the violence that the Syrian government has pursued since April 1 when it committed to cease all hostile actions by yesterday," US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said in New York on Wednesday afternoon.

"Its commitments, therefore, have little if any credibility given that track record," she told reporters.

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