Over 30 reported dead in Syria despite truce talk

Annan sets precise ceasefire deadline for April 12; refugee flow to Turkey accelerates; UN's Ban: Situation on ground deteriorating.

Damage rubble in the old city of Homs_370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Damage rubble in the old city of Homs_370
(photo credit: Reuters)
BEIRUT - Syria told UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan it had begun pulling troops out of several cities on Thursday in line with a peace plan accepted by President Bashar Assad, but his foes said the army was still firing in those towns and elsewhere.
Annan said the Syrian army and rebels must end all violence by 6 a.m. Syrian time (0400 GMT) on April 12 if the government meets its agreed deadline to halt fighting two days earlier.
"I urge the government and the opposition commanders to issue clear instructions so that the message reaches across the country, down to the fighter and soldier at the local level," the former UN chief told the UN General Assembly.
Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said in Geneva that Syrian authorities had "told us that they have begun withdrawing troops from certain areas", namely the cities of Deraa, Idlib and Zabadani. He said this was being verified, but did not say how.
"They are complete liars, there is no army withdrawal, they are still in the middle of the city. They fired on the city this morning, like they do every day," a man calling himself Abu Mustafa said by telephone from Zabadani near the Lebanon border.
However, he did acknowledge a modest pullback. "The army withdrew 15 tanks yesterday, but the rest are all around the checkpoints as usual," Abu Mustafa said.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 33 people, including 14 soldiers, killed on Thursday, 16 of them in the city of Homs and 14 in Idlib province.
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Video filmed by activists just outside Aleppo, Syria's second city, showed five tanks and armored personnel carriers firing heavy machine guns as they advanced through a village.
A diplomatic face-off intensified between Syria's ally Russia and Western powers who want Assad to go. France accused the 46-year-old Syrian leader of cheating on his promises, while Moscow told opposition supporters abroad not to set ultimatums.
But the UN Security Council was expected to adopt without objection a statement urging Syria to meet Annan's deadline.
UN's Ban: Situation on ground deteriorating
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said attacks on civilians had not stopped and the Syria conflict was getting worse despite Assad's acceptance of Annan's initial plan to end the crisis.
"The violence and assaults in civilian areas have not stopped. The situation on the ground continues to deteriorate," Ban told the UN General Assembly.
More than 42,000 Syrians have fled the country since the uprising began a year ago and quickly descended into violence.
Turkey said over 1,600 had crossed the border in the last two days, twice the recent average rate.
The United Nations says Assad's forces have killed more than 9,000 people in the past year. Syria told the world body this week that 6,044 had died, including 2,566 soldiers and police.
Blasts and gunfire rocked Douma and activists said army reinforcements headed for the town near Damascus shortly before a senior UN peacekeeping official arrived in the capital.
Norwegian Army former Chief of Staff Major-General Robert Mood, 54, brought an advance planning team of 10 to decide how around 250 UN monitors might oversee the truce between army and insurgents due to take effect by next Thursday.