The United States on Wednesday accused the embattled Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, of failing to fulfill a pledge to respect a U.N.-Arab League peace plan.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland assailed the Syrian leader, telling reporters that “Assad has not taken the necessary steps to implement” the peace plan crafted by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan.
Syrian forces on Wednesday stormed a rebel bastion despite Assad’s reported acceptance of Annan’s peace plan and an opposition plea that tanks be withdrawn, monitors said.
Washington is concerned over “arrests and violence continuing in Syria today,” Nuland said, vowing to “keep the pressure on Assad.”
“We will judge him on his actions, not his promises,” the spokeswoman said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian forces backed by tanks swept into the central town of Qalaat al-Madiq and nearby villages early on Wednesday after a siege lasting more than two weeks.
The Britain-based monitoring group said the troops entered the town, in Hama province, just after dawn following a 17-day barrage of shelling and heavy gunfire to root out rebels.
It added however that the army was not in full control of the town.
“Heavy clashes between regime forces and armed rebels are preventing the army from advancing,” the Observatory said. “Intense gunfire and explosions can be heard in nearby villages.”
Abu Ghazi, a local activist reached by Skype, told AFP in Beirut that members of the rebel Free Syrian Army had withdrawn from the area because of the regular army’s superior firepower.
Qalaat al-Madiq is home to a historic castle that was shelled during the fighting, as seen in videos posted on YouTube.
The army’s offensive is part of the regime’s efforts to overrun rebel strongholds as it tries to crush an unprecedented year-long revolt, which according to the U.N. has claimed the lives of more than 9,000 people.
Fierce clashes were also reported on Wednesday across the country, including in northwest Idlib province, central Homs and the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the year-long revolt, the Observatory said.
Annan said on Tuesday that Assad’s government had accepted his plan, a move cautiously welcomed by Western nations.
The plan calls for a commitment to stop all armed violence, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire and media access to all areas affected by the fighting in Syria.
The plan also calls for an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate, and the release of people detained arbitrarily.
The disparate Syrian opposition is to attend Sunday’s meeting which will also draw top officials from dozens of Arab and Western countries eager to end the violence in Syria.
Ahead of the gathering the main opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella for many groups, unveiled a proposal highlighting human rights and respect for minorities.
But dissent broke out among participants from the start of the meeting in Istanbul, with human rights activist Haitham al-Maleh withdrawing from the talks and accusing the SNC of not respecting others and imposing its will.
The National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which groups Arab nationalist parties, Kurds and socialists, shunned the gathering. Also absent were a small group of intellectuals, including the prominent scholar Michel Kilo.
Clinton said before the first Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis last month that the SNC will demonstrate there is “an alternative” to the Assad regime, stopping well short of recognizing them as the sole opposition movement.