Fierce attacks across Syria leave 101 dead; Annan sets to address U.N. on crisis

Demonstrators gather during a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, after Friday Prayers in the town of Hula near the city of Homs. (Reuters)

Fierce clashes erupted after Syria’s regime sent reinforcements into rebel areas on Wednesday despite a truce pledge, while the U.N. said it was rushing a team to Damascus to pave the way for peace monitors.

At least 101 people were killed by security force gunfire on Wednesday across Syria, the Syrian Revolution General Commission reported.

Seven people were killed in the central city of Homs − four rebels who died in clashes with the regular army in the neighborhood of Qussur and three civilians, including a man and his son, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said.

Also in Homs province, three civilians, including a woman were killed by rockets near the border with Lebanon, while a soldier was killed in heavy fighting in the rebel city of Qusayr.

In the province of Idlib in Jabal al-Zawiya area a former political prisoner Ahmed al-Othman and his brother were killed as tank fire struck their car.

An elderly man was also killed in indiscriminate firing in the province as houses were burned and raided in the village of Taftanaz, the Observatory said.

In Deir Ezzor, a rebel hiding in the village of Zibari was killed by gunfire, while in Damascus a "bomb under the car of a pro-regime man" exploded causing no casualties.

Three civilians were killed and 15 wounded in an explosion in a building in the town of Beit Sahem.

And in the province of Daraa, the cradle of uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, government forces stormed the village of Tafas and an arrest campaign was underway in Inkhel.

Syrian activists said there have been explosions and clashes in several parts of the country on Wednesday. The surge in violence on Tuesday killed at least 74 people, mostly in northwestern Idlib province, activists told Al Arabiya.

Opposition figure Mohammed Saleh told The Associated Press there has been a series of loud blasts in the central Homs region and heavy machine gun fire in parts of the old city.

Activist Mohammed Saeed in the Damascus suburb of Duma said regime troops were carrying out raids and arrests on Wednesday. He said tanks and checkpoints remain in place.

Tuesday’s violence saw a string of arson attacks on homes as well, activists and monitors said.

It came a day after peace envoy Kofi Annan told the U.N. Security Council that President Bashar al-Assad had given assurances he would “immediately” start pulling back his forces and complete a military withdrawal from urban areas by April 10.

The United States accused Assad of failing to honor his pledged troop withdrawal, as monitors reported heavy fighting in opposition strongholds in the southern region of Deraa, the central city of Homs, Idlib and near the capital.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has charged that the army is torching and looting rebel houses across the country in a campaign that could amount to crimes against humanity.

Dozens of armored personnel carriers arrived in Dael, a town in Deraa province where the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, as well as in Zabadani, a bastion of the rebellion near the border with Lebanon.

Clashes in the Atbaa area of Deraa left three civilians and two soldiers dead, according to the Observatory.

In Idlib, heavy fighting took place on the outskirts of the town of Taftanaz, where scores of civilians, rebels and government soldiers were killed amid heavy machinegun fire and shelling, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

With international concern at the situation growing, a draft U.N. Security Council statement was drawn up asking Syria to respect an April 10 deadline to halt its military operations in protest cities, according to a copy of the text received by Al Arabiya.

The draft also urges the Syrian opposition to cease hostilities within 48 hours after the Assad’s regime makes good on its pledges.

It also calls on all parties to respect a two-hour daily humanitarian pause, as called for in Annan’s plan.

Negotiations on the text -- distributed by Britain, France and the United States -- began on Tuesday. France’s U.N. envoy Gerard Araud said he hoped it would be adopted late Wednesday or on Thursday.

In Geneva, a spokesman for Annan said the office of the U.N.-Arab League envoy expected a “U.N. advance team on the deployment of monitors to arrive in Syria in the next 48 hours.”

“A DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) planning mission should be arriving in Damascus within 48 hours,” spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told Reuters in Geneva on Tuesday.

Annan will hold talks with Norway’s Major-General Robert Mood, who will head the advance team, in the Swiss city on Wednesday, Fawzi said.

Mood served as head of mission of the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization known as UNTSO, the U.N. peacekeeping operation in the Middle East, for two years until February 2011.

In a briefing Monday to the Security Council, Annan sought a broad mandate for the monitoring mission as he reported “no progress” on reaching a ceasefire, according to diplomats.

Syria’s U.N. envoy, Bashar Jaafari, confirmed the April 10 date had been agreed “by common accord” between Annan and his government.

Seeking to assuage some of the humanitarian concerns, foreign Minister Walid Muallem pledged Syria would do its utmost to ensure the success of a Red Cross mission as he met the organization’s head, Jakob Kellenberger, who was in Damascus to seek a daily ceasefire.

International Committee of the Red Cross chief Kellenberger, on his third mission to Damascus since it launched a protest crackdown which the U.N. says has killed more than 9,000 people, said ahead of his latest trip that he would seek to secure a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire.

Annan to address U.N. General Assembly

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on Syria will address the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday about Assad’s crackdown on rebels in Syria after a truce pledge.

Following a telephone call with Annan, General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser convened an informal meeting for 10:00 a.m. (1400 GMT) Thursday for Annan to provide an update on the situation in Syria and the “progress of his mission,” a spokeswoman said.

She said Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general, would brief via videoconference.

Annan, tapped as envoy in February, has previously briefed the U.N. Security Council twice on his mission in Syria. He said Monday that Assad had agreed to “immediately” start pulling troops out of protest cities and complete a troop and heavy weapons withdrawal by April 10.

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