Claims by the Syrian regime to have pulled troops out of some cities are disputed by international critics as UN envoy Kofi Annan urges the Assad regime to comply with his peace plan.
After a day of claim and counter-claim, Mr Annan said in a letter to the UN Security Council “The Syrian leadership should now seize the opportunity to make a fundamental change of course .. It is essential that the next 48 hours bring visible signs of immediate and indisputable change in the military posture of the government forces throughout the country.” Under Mr Annan’s plan Syria was due to have started pulling troops out of towns and cities by Tuesday to pave the way for a full ceasefire to start on Thursday.
On Tuesday morning the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told reporters in Moscow that the regime had already pulled back some of its troops from cities in line with the Mr Annan’s UN-backed peace plan.
But Britain’s Foreign Minister William Hague told Channel 4 News that: “in the opinion of Kofi Annan this afternoon, they have pulled back from some places but extended their forces into other places.”
And on the ground there appeared to be little evidence of a ceasefire. Activists said troops killed at least 31 people and insurgents killed six soldiers on Tuesday.
Opposition forces said 26 people, mostly civilians, were killed in Homs in an army bombardment of the city’s Bayada and Khalidiya districts. State media said over 30 security personnel killed by rebels had been buried. Government restrictions on media hamper independent verification of such accounts.
We will be ready to intensify our support for the Syrian Opposition, and to support others seeking to do the same. William Hague
Syria’s foreign minister also said that Damascus wanted guarantees from Mr Annan that armed groups attacking its troops would commit to a ceasefire under a UN-backed peace plan.
“We will not ask the terrorist groups, which are killing, kidnapping and destroying infrastructure, for guarantees. We want Annan to give us these guarantees,” he told reporters in Moscow.
His host, the previously supportive Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, used the same press conference to urge the Assad regime to act “more decisively” to implement the Amman peace plan and called on foreign states to use their influence on opposition groups to press for an immediate ceasefire.
In a statement earlier in the day British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that he remained sceptical about the Assad regime’s commitment to the UN-backed peace plan, adding: “We will be ready to intensify our support for the Syrian Opposition, and to support others seeking to do the same. And we will begin the process of seeking the referral by the Security Council of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.”
In his interview with Channel 4 News, Mr Hague warned that if the Annan plan failed there would be countries in the Middle East either advocating the supply of, or actively supplying weapons to the rebels.
In Paris the Syrian claims to be complying with the Annan peace plan were dismissed as a “blatant lie”. A spokesman for the French foreign ministry told reporters that: “Today, Syrian security forces are still firing on populated areas and using heavy weapons, armoured vehicles and helicopters. That’s the reality.”
The same fears were expressed by White House spokesman Jay Carney who told reporters on Tuesday: “Leaders of the Assad regime … make a lot of promises … Those promises overwhelmingly turn out to be empty.”
Channel 4 News Special Report: The battle for Syria
The latest shelling follows intense fighting over the weekend, with Syrian forces firing across borders, killing a cameraman in Lebanon and wounding five people in a refugee camp in Turkey. Yesterday was reported to be one of the bloodiest days of the Syrian uprising, with activists saying 100 people had been killed.
In the wake of the latest bout of fighting, Turkish deputy foreign minister Naci Koru said: “10 April has become void.”
Hopes that a ceasefire agreement would be honoured were already beginning to fade after President al-Assad demanded written guarantees of good faith from rebels. The demand was rejected by rebel leaders.
Mr Annan is due to visit Syrian refugees on the Turkish border on his way to Iran, where it is hoped he will try to convince Tehran to pressure the Syrian government into ending the violence, which is said to have claimed 9,000 lives.