U.N. peacekeepers due in Syria within 2 days; Assad’s forces continue crackdown


A U.N. peacekeeping team is due to arrive in Syria within 48 hours to discuss deployment of observers to monitor a ceasefire in Syria even as the Syrian regime continued to pound opposition strongholds throughout the country.

“A DPKO (department of peacekeeping operations) planning mission should be arriving in Damascus within 48 hours,” Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told Reuters in Reneva.

But the developments on the grounds have shown little signs of an imminent peace to keep.

Fierce clashes erupted Tuesday as Syria’s regime sent reinforcements into rebel areas and the West sought to warn Damascus of U.N. action unless it sticks to an agreement to pull back its armor.

Monitoring groups reported that heavy fighting had engulfed opposition strongholds in the southern region of Deraa, northwestern Idlib province and areas around the capital.

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

Sayyed Mahmoud, an activist in Dael reached by Skype, told AFP the situation was extremely tense in the town.
“They burned down 14 houses yesterday. They are arresting people and have sent in troop reinforcements,” he said.

“As part of the regime’s campaign to starve the people, troops are raiding homes, destroying food stocks and equipment,” he added. “For example, if they see a sewing machine, they destroy it.”

“They go into bakeries and destroy the dough. There are 15-hour power cuts a day.”

In Idlib, which borders Turkey, fighting was taking place on the outskirts of Taftanaz, where two civilians and one soldier were killed amid heavy machinegun fire and shelling, said the Observatory.

“Four civilians have been wounded and several homes torched,” it added. “Rebels managed to disable a troop carrier and have killed or wounded a number of government troops.”

In Damascus province, clashes were reported in the towns of Duma and in Zabadani, where the army was carrying out arrests and raiding homes.

The Britain-based Observatory has charged that the army is torching and looting rebel houses across the country in a deliberate campaign that could amount to crimes against humanity.

In a briefing to the 15-member Security Council on Monday, Annan said that “no progress” had been made on reaching a ceasefire, according to diplomats.

The former U.N. chief said the Security Council had to start considering the deployment of an observer mission with a broad mandate to monitor events in Syria.

The partial implementation of Annan’s six-point peace plan would include a full cessation of hostilities within 48 hours of the deadline, diplomats said.

However, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said Friday the government will not pull tanks and troops from towns and cities engulfed by unrest before life returns to normal there, according to The Associated Press.

The United States, Britain and France were working on a Security Council declaration that would put a formal stamp on the Apr. 10 deadline.

The statement -- a draft of which will be sent to Council members on Tuesday -- would warn Assad of possible “further measures” if he reneges on the promise made to Annan, one U.N. diplomat told AFP.

Russia has rejected the idea of a deadline for implementation of the peace plan, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying “ultimatums and artificial deadlines rarely help matters.’

Moscow, a Soviet-era ally of the Assad regime, said only the Security Council, where it wields veto power, could put any time restrictions on Syria’s compliance with the peace plan.

Besides the humanitarian ceasefire, Annan’s plan also calls for an inclusive Syrian-led political process, the right to demonstrate, and the release of people detained arbitrarily.

Key opposition figures joined representatives from more than 70 countries, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at Sunday’s “Friends of the Syrian People” conference in Istanbul.

The “Friends” pledged to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to Syria’s opposition groups, pushed for tighter sanctions and diplomatic pressure to further isolate Assad, and urged the opposition to offer a democratic alternative to his regime.