Last Updated: Mon Apr 09, 2012 08:45 am (KSA) 05:45 am (GMT)

Syria not to withdraw troops without ‘guarantees’ from rebels

Nearly 130 people were reported killed across Syria on Saturday − three days ahead of the deadline to cease fire and pull back. (Reuters)
Nearly 130 people were reported killed across Syria on Saturday − three days ahead of the deadline to cease fire and pull back. (Reuters)

The Syrian government will not withdraw its forces from Syrian protest hubs without “written guarantees” from the opposition, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

“To say that Syria will pull back its forces from towns on April 10 is inaccurate, Kofi Annan having not yet presented written guarantees on the acceptance by armed terrorist groups of a halt to all violence,” it said.

On Thursday the U.N. Security Council formally endorsed April 10 as the deadline for Syrian troops and big guns to be withdrawn from cities, but Damascus said on Friday the number of “terrorist acts” has risen since the deal was reached with U.N. and Arab League envoy Annan.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s prime minister has said his country will take “steps” if the Syrian regime fails to abide by an April 10 deadline to cease violence, Turkish media reported on Sunday, amid reports that Syrian troops are continuing their offensive on rebel towns.

“We will patiently follow the process until April 10,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying by daily Hurriyet.

But “we will implement steps” if violence does not stop after that, he added.

Although the Turkish premier did not specify what measures his government would take, the mass influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian unrest has raised alarm in Ankara which has voiced support for the Syrian opposition.

Different scenarios are being floated by the press, including the setting up of a buffer zone along the border with Syria to protect refugees.

More than 9,000 people have died in Syria in more than a year of unrest, according to U.N. figures, as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has cracked down on protesters and armed rebels, drawing international condemnation.

Last week saw a record number of some 2,800 Syrians enter Turkey in a 36-hour period to escape a helicopter-backed assault by Syrian troops.

The total number of refugees now in Turkish camps near the Syrian border exceeds 24,000, according to official figures provided by the Ankara government.

Turkey, a former ally to Damascus, has cut off contact with Assad.

On Sunday, activists said Syrian troops were assaulting and shelling restive regions in the north and center of the country despite an international cease-fire scheduled to go into effect within days, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of army vehicles are taking part in an attack east of the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour. It said explosions were heard in the area Sunday morning.

Tarek Badrakhan, who is an activist in the central city of Homs, said troops fired mortar rounds Sunday at the rebel-held neighborhood of Khaldiyeh.

Last week, Assad accepted a cease-fire agreement brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan calling for government forces to withdraw from towns and villages by Tuesday.

Nearly 130 people were reported killed across Syria on Saturday − three days ahead of the deadline to cease fire and pull back.

Satellite images cast doubt on cease-fire

The United States has warned Syria it will not be able to deceive the world about compliance with the cease-fire deal.

The U.S. ambassador to Syria posted online satellite images late Friday that he said cast doubt on the regime’s readiness to pull out.

“This is not the reduction in offensive Syrian government security operations that all agree must be the first step for the Annan initiative to succeed,” Ambassador Robert Ford wrote on the embassy’s Facebook page.

Ford posted photos he said show the government has pulled back some forces, but kept others in place or simply shifted around troops and armored vehicles. Earlier this week, the government claimed it had withdrawn from several areas.

“The regime and the Syrian people should know that we are watching,” Ford wrote, citing satellite surveillance. “The regime cannot hide the truth.”

Annan ‘shocked’ by violence

Meanwhile, the international mediator for Syria, Kofi Annan, said on Sunday he was shocked by the “unacceptable” surge in bloodshed there despite a U.N. deadline for a halt to all violence next week.

“I am shocked by recent reports of a surge in violence and atrocities in several towns and villages in Syria, resulting in alarming levels of casualties, refugees and displaced persons, in violation of assurances given to me,” Annan said in a statement.

“I remind the Syrian government of the need for full implementation of its commitments and stress that the present escalation of violence is unacceptable,” he said, calling on both the government and the opposition to cease all forms of violence by Thursday’s deadline.

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