But doubts remain about its success.
A U.N.-brokered peace agreement appeared to hold Thursday after the government of Bashar al-Assad halted attacks on rebel forces ahead of the planned deadline. But the country’s defense ministry reserved the right to retaliate against “armed terrorist groups,” casting doubt on the agreement’s longer-term viability. By 6 a.m. Thursday, the cease-fire deadline, the government had not yet launched any attacks on rebels, a hopeful sign after shelling was in progress on in Homs and Damascus only hours before. Top rebel leaders said they plan to test the ceasfire with massive protests on Friday.
Free Syrian Army soldiers driven into Turkey by Bashar al-Assad’s military are sneaking back into their country despite the regime’s failure to honor a U.N. ceasefire, and say they will keep fighting even with few weapons and no concrete Western support.
Refugees in camps on the Turkish border were preparing to return home to bury the dead. They had packed their bags and planned their escape routes. All they needed was a signal to start their journey. But that signal never came. As news broke of a failed United Nations–sanctioned ceasefire, they realized their trip would have to wait.
Rebels of the Free Syrian Army take cover from shells fired by the government tanks which have advanced into Saraquib City, April 9 (John Cantlie / Getty Images)
A troop withdrawal had originally been set to begin at midnight Monday, and Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem claimed the government had removed military units from several provinces. But the violence continued in the Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday, part of a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people in the past 13 months.
Despite reports from activists of violence.
The Syrian government said on Tuesday that it has begun to remove troops as the United Nations’ deadline for a ceasefire draws closer—but activists said 12 people had been killed by government forces early Tuesday. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said that the government had already withdrawn forces and Army units, although even Russia—one of Syria’s few allies left—said Bashar al-Assad’s government could have implemented the ceasefire better. The ceasefire, brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, is seen as the last hope to avoid an all-out civil war.
As Human Rights Watch says 100 executed in four months.
Hopes for a peace plan brokered by the United Nations through envoy Kofi Annan showed signs of crumbling, with the Syrian government making a failed demand that the rebels give a written guarantee of a ceasefire on the eve of the withdrawal deadline. Fifty-nine more people were reported killed in violence Sunday. Meanwhile, more than 100 people, the majority of them civilians, have been executed by Syrian troops over the past four months, said the international rights organization Human Rights Watch. And that number could be low, as the group only included cases backed up by witnesses. Reports of other executions of civilians were not uncommon in the country where troops have implemented draconian measures to put down a more-than-yearlong uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Despite Thursday’s ceasefire.
Despite agreeing to a ceasefire that would have gone into effect at 6 a.m. Thursday, Syrian government troops broadened an offensive against opposition fighters in three Damascus neighborhoods on Friday, with fierce fighting breaking out. There was hope last week when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to a brokered plan, which calls for his forces to pull out of towns by next Tuesday. But United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan told the General Assembly on Thursday that the ceasefire is now in jeopardy. “Clearly the violence is still continuing at alarming levels daily," he said. “Military operations have not stopped.”
One of its most violent campaigns yet.
Syrian forces launched what activists called one of its most violent assaults yet on a Damascus suburb Thursday, shelling residential areas with tanks. According to Mohammed Saeed, an activist based in the suburb, they used troops as human shields as they marched into the area’s main square. A British human rights group, one of the most trusted observers of the uprising, confirmed a major military action in Douma, though there were no reports of deaths. As the violence was reported, Syria claimed to withdraw troops as part of a U.N. peace plan championed by Kofi Annan, an assertion that could not be confirmed.
Though opposition says violence rages on.
A day after Syria reportedly agreed to an international peace plan, Assad is sticking to his word. If you trust government officials, that is. The official told the Associated Press that troops were pulling out from calm cities ahead of the April 10 deadline. Opposition in Damascus, however, denied the claims, saying that 20 were dead in a fresh round of violence. In more tense areas, troops are reportedly heading to the outskirts of the action. Assad has a long history of breaking promises when it comes to ceasefires.
Ceasefire by April 10.
Is this finally the end of violence in Syria? Kofi Annan has reportedly said that the nation—mainly President Bashar al-Assad—has agreed to a six-point peace plan. The plan specifies a U.N.-supervised ceasefire in which all soldiers and weapons will be removed from cities within 48 hours of an April 10 deadline. Last week Syria had approved of the plan, though there were no signs that Assad was going to follow through. As violence rages on in the nation, the U.N. reports that 9,000 have been killed in the last year.
Just weeks after a Russian and Chinese veto derailed UN sanctions against Damascus, a diplomatic solution to the year-long insurgency may be taking shape.
Istanbul—In the battlefield cities of Homs, Idlib and Deraa, Syria’s security forces have fought the rag-tag opposition army to a standstill. At the negotiating table, though, the opposition has gained the initiative. On Sunday, representatives of most of the main opposition groups met in Istanbul, Turkey, to agree on a united front to negotiate with Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. The West’s foreign ministers also attended the meeting in a major show of solidarity with the opposition.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martony joined foreign ministers from dozens of countries gathered to set conditions for a new Syria. (AP Photo )
Earlier this week both Russia, a long-time backer of the Assad regime, and the Arab League backed a peace plan thrashed out by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan that calls for a ceasefire followed by talks between Assad and his opponents. Most significant of all, al-Assad himself signaled that he was willing to go along with the Annan plan. Just weeks after a Russian and Chinese veto derailed U.N. sanctions against Damascus, a diplomatic solution to the year-long insurgency may be taking shape.
“If United Nations Security Council does not take on the responsibility, the international community will have no chance but to accept Syrians’ right to self-defense,” Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the opening of the Friends of Syria conference. But he also signaled that he viewed the Annan plan as an exit strategy for Assad, not a way for him to remain in power. “It is not possible for us to support any plan that would help a regime that oppresses its own people stay in power.”
Doubles funding for opposition.
World powers stepped up their indictments of Syria today, meeting in Turkey for the Friends of Syria conference, where U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to double America’s funding of the opposition to $25 million. “We cannot sit back and wait any longer,” Clinton warned. Meanwhile, Syrian rebels said their fighters are getting salaries. The opposition Syrian National Council said Sunday that wealthy Gulf Arab states will supply millions of dollars to them, and money will be given to soldiers who defect from the government’s army.
Will pull troops gradually.
The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has declared "victory" over a year-long revolt, saying on Saturday that it will begin withdrawing the Army. This came after Assad agreed to a peace plan proposed by United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi claimed that the military remain in opposition cities "in a state of self-defense and protecting civilians" and will only gradually pull out "once peace and security is restored." Meanwhile, activists say fresh violence claimed more lives in the country.
'The deadline is now.'
United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan's spokesman said Friday that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must order a ceasefire without waiting for the opposition to make the first move. "The deadline is now," Ahmad Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva. Assad has reportedly declared acceptance of the Annan peace plan, but it has not been popular with the opposition, since it does not hinge on Assad leaving office. There has been no let-up to the violence—especially in Homs—despite Assad's agreement.
Gives U.N.-Arab League envoy full support.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threw his full support behind the U.N.-Arab League’s mission for peace in Syria. “This may be the last chance for Syria to avoid a protracted and bloody civil war,” he told Annan Monday, insisting that Moscow would offer “full support at any level.” The former U.N. secretary-general has assembled a special envoy between the United Nations and the Arab League to end violence in Syria. Annan’s spokesperson also confirmed Monday that the Syrian government has responded to the plan, though no details on the response are available at this time.
Attempting to oust rebels.
Rebel-controlled neighborhoods in Homs were hit with shells by Syrian troops Monday in what looks like an effort to oust fighters from the third-largest Syrian city. According to various sources, somewhere between 5 and 10 people were killed in the Homs attacks. The Muslim Brotherhood declared its commitment to creating a “modern” democracy in the event that President Bashar al-Assad is ousted. The ousted organization represents Syria’s Sunni majority.
Citing security concerns.
Turkey brought a temporary suspension to its diplomatic activities in Syria Monday, closing its embassy in Damascus and recalling its ambassador. Turkish officials said concerns about security in a country wracked by internal conflict were the prime reasons for the closure. Diplomatic relations between Syria and its neighbor to the north have been strained in recent days, with the Turkish prime minister threatening to break ties with the country. Turkey has allowed refugees of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal yearlong crackdown to take shelter behind its borders.
Former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab grabbed headlines at a press conference Tuesday, urging Syrians to rebel and claiming President Assad's regime is 'on the verge of collapse.'
Before jumping into Egypt or Syria, the U.S. needs to think about what comes next, next, and next. And then, don’t jump, writes Leslie H. Gelb.
A country at war with itself. Bombs and civilian massacres. Yet, in Damascus, the music plays on.
There is no sign of capitulation as the Syrian government’s bombardment of the city heads into its 20th day.