Syria defies cease-fire plan as peace hopes fade

By Zeina Karam

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem attend a news conference in Moscow, Tuesday, April 10, 2012. Russia has called on the opposition as well as countries that "influence them" to use their powers to bring about a cease-fire in Syria.

Sergey Ponomarev, Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syrian troops defied a U.N.-brokered cease-fire plan on Tuesday, launching fresh attacks on rebellious areas, but special envoy Kofi Annan said there was still time to salvage a truce that he described as the only chance for peace.

More than a year into the Syrian uprising, the international community has nearly run out of options for halting the slide toward civil war. On Tuesday, Annan insisted his peace initiative remains "very much alive" — in part because there is no viable alternative.

The U.N. has ruled out any military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, and several rounds of sanctions and other attempts to isolate President Bashar Assad have done little to stop the bloodshed.

"If you want to take (the plan) off the table, what will you replace it with?" Annan told reporters in Hatay, Turkey, where he toured a camp sheltering Syrian refugees.

Facing a Tuesday deadline to pull back its tanks and troops, the Syrian government had said it was withdrawing from certain areas, including the rebellious central province of Homs. But France called the claims a "flagrant and unacceptable lie," and activists said there was no sign of a withdrawal.

Residents of Homs reported some of the heaviest shelling in months.

"Hundreds of mortar rounds and shells were falling around all day," resident Tarek Badrakhan told The Associated Press. He said a makeshift hospital housing wounded people and dozens of corpses was destroyed in the shelling.

"It's now on the ground," he said.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, obtained by The Associated Press, Annan said Syria has not pulled troops and heavy military equipment out of cities and towns, and that the regime's last-minute conditions put the entire cease-fire at risk.

The council strongly backed Annan, with all 15 members — including Syrian allies China and Russia — urging Syria's leaders to halt all military action so a cease-fire can take effect at 6 a.m. on Thursday, as called for by Annan's plan. It also called on the opposition to stop all violence if the Syrian forces halt attacks.

"Obviously, members of the council are unified in their grave concern that this deadline has passed and the violence has not only continued but over the last 10 days has intensified," said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and this month's council president.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Annan's report made clear that "Assad is not complying with the commitments that he made under the six-point plan and that, in fact, violence has only gotten worse over this last week."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe accused Assad of lying and flouting Syria's commitments. "Not only has the use of heavy weapons not ended ...but what was presented as a withdrawal is in fact only a thinly disguised redeployment," he said in a statement.

According to Annan's peace plan, the pullback of Syrian forces was supposed to be followed by a full cease-fire by all within 48 hours. The halt in fighting would then pave the way for an observer mission and talks between both sides over the country's future.

After 13 months of bloodshed, a revolt that began as a mostly peaceful movement against Assad's stagnant and entrenched regime has morphed into an insurgency.

The U.N. estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising began, and the toll climbs every day. Regime forces assault their opponents with tanks, machine guns and snipers, and the Free Syrian Army rebel group launches frequent attacks against government targets, killing soldiers and security forces.

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