The Syrian government agreed overnight to a peace plan drawn up by UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, but the fighting between Bashar al-Assad forces and rebel groups continues.
Annan’s six-point plan includes a withdrawal of weapons and troops from residential areas, free access for international aid groups and journalists, the release of political prisoners and plans for a move towards a multi-party government in Syria. Annan has spent the last few days in Russia and China, Syria’s two biggest allies, trying to seal support for the plan.
Foreign leaders remain sceptical of al-Assad’s commitment to a peace plan, with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague telling reporters: “We will continue to judge the Syrian regime by its practical actions, not by its often empty words.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Hague’s remarks. “We will judge Assad’s sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says,” said Clinton. “If he is ready to bring this dark chapter in Syria’s history to a close, he could prove it by immediately ordering regime forces to stop firing and begin withdrawing from populated areas.”
Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria who was forced to leave last month as the violence increased, also doubted al-Assad’s word. “I have to tell you that my own experience with him is you want to see steps on the ground and not just take his word at face value,” said Ford.
Yet the bloodshed continues, with reports that al-Assad troops have entered Lebanon to fight rebel groups who fled there. As Arab News reports:
They said Syrian forces crossed a few hundred meters into Lebanese territory. A security source in Beirut said clashes had taken place near the poorly marked border but did not confirm Syrian troops had entered Lebanon. Shells hit north Lebanon last week and residents say Syrian troops have briefly crossed the frontier while pursuing fleeing rebels in recent months. ‘More than 35 Syrian soldiers came across the border and started to destroy houses,’ said Abu Ahmed, 63, a resident of the mainly Sunni Muslim rural mountain area of Al-Qaa.
Another resident said that the soldiers, some traveling in armored personnel vehicles, fired rocket-propelled grenades and exchanged heavy machine gun fire with rebels. He said soldiers destroyed one house with a bulldozer.
Al Jazeera also reports worrying stories of continued fighting:
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based rights group, reported that at least 31 people, including 13 government troops, were killed in clashes across the country.
The UK-based group said that 18 of those killed were civilians, 13 of whom were killed in Homs. Violence was also reported in Idlib province, Damascus and near the border with Lebanon.
Is this plan even worth the paper it’s written on? asks Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy:
Indeed, many Syria observers believe Assad is seeking to bog down Annan and his team of mediators in a fruitless diplomatic process that will provide him with political cover to continue his military campaign to crush the opposition. Even today, the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group that monitors the violence, said 20 people had died by mid afternoon, according to a report in the New York Times, and fighting was reported along the Lebanese border.
‘Assad has everything to gain from accepting the Annan initiative,’ said Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. ‘The president is looking for a way to end the uprising without stepping down, or turning power over to the revolutions. The new U.N. peace plan does not insist on having Assad handing over power, which is why Assad finds it acceptable … He can play along with this because ultimately he needs to slow down the stampede towards greater and greater sanctions and [secure international] pressure on the opposition not to send weapons inside Syria.’
Syrian opposition leaders, including the Muslim Brotherhood, met in Turkey to discuss plans to unify against Bashar al-Assad. According to the UN, the death toll in Syria is now more than 9000.
But it’s not just the death toll in Syria that has foreign governments concerned, says CBS News:
The conflict could enflame already simmering regional tensions, give rise to extremists like al-Qaida and upend some of the most enduring alliances in the Middle East and beyond.
A draft resolution on Syria will be submitted to the Arab League later this week, which calls for “serious national dialogue” between opposition leaders and government forces on the current situation.
The resolution will call for the Syrian opposition groups “to unify its ranks and prepare … to enter into serious dialogue (with the regime) to achieve the democratic life which is demanded by the Syrian people.”
It also demands an end to the fighting.
“The Syrian government should immediately stop all actions of violence and killing, protect Syrian civilians and guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations for achieving demands of the Syrian people,” the text says.