Syria truce prospects fade as fighting rages
ANTAKYA, Turkey/BEIRUT (Reuters) - A military bombardment of a town in central Syria killed 35 people on Monday on the eve of a scheduled army withdrawal from urban areas, opposition activists said, dashing the prospects of a U.N.-brokered ceasefire taking hold.
Troops and rebel forces also clashed near the border with Turkey, activists said. Two Syrian refugees and a Turkish translator were wounded by gunfire from Syria at a refugee camp inside Turkey territory, Turkish officials said, drawing an angry response from the Ankara government.
Bloodshed also spilled into northern Lebanon, where a cameraman for Al-Jadeed television channel was shot dead in the border region between Syria and Lebanon's Wadi Khaled district, sources at the channel said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he "deplored" the cross-border shootings.
The unrelenting violence indicated that a peace plan promoted by international envoy Kofi Annan and initially accepted by both sides was in tatters.
Syria was to have started pulling troops out of towns and cities by Tuesday, paving the way for a ceasefire to start 48 hours later.
But President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday said his foes must give written guarantees they would stop fighting and lay down their arms - a demand they immediately rejected.
Nor did government forces show any sign they were starting to pull back on Monday.
"April 10 has become void," Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru said in Ankara, referring to the deadline.
Washington said Syria's demand for written guarantees was a "stall for time" and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in Brussels that adding new conditions was totally unacceptable.
China, which has supported Assad in his year-long effort to crush the uprising against his family's dynastic rule, called on both sides to honor the ceasefire and support Annan's efforts.
For graphic on fighting link.reuters.com/zan47s
For Interactive timeline link.reuters.com/pyt37s
Russia, which has defended him in the U.N. Security Council and remains Assad's most important ally, stopped short of pressing him to rein in his army.
"Attempts to force a solution on Syria from outside will lead only to an escalation of tension," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said. "Everything must follow from respect for Syria's sovereignty, and violence must be stopped."
Middle East specialist Augustus Richard Norton of Boston University said the collapse of the ceasefire was unsurprising.
"The Syrian regime does not understand compromise. Its ethos is 'rule or die'," he said. "Therefore, Syria will continue its inexorable slide into full-scale civil war, especially since the chance for effective foreign intervention to stop the bloodletting is also zero."
WOMEN AND CHILDREN VICTIMS
Opposition activists said the military bombarded al-Latmana, northwest of the city of Hama, killing 35 people. Among the dead were 17 children and eight women, they said. Hama has been in the forefront of the uprising which began with street protests in March 2011 and has since intensified into armed conflict.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said helicopters fired on rebel fighters during clashes which broke out after the army surrounded a hospital where bodies of the al-Latmana victims were taken.
It also said at least 27 people were killed in the town of Tall Rifaat, which saw heavy bombardment by the army and clashes between soldiers and rebels.
Two opposition activists said a total of 150 people had been killed in the al-Rouge region in the northwestern province of Idlib in the last two days, most of them in bombardment by tanks and helicopters and others rounded up and shot.
Anti-Assad activists say the army is trying to seize back swaths of Idlib province from rebel control, driving terrified villagers north and west to the Turkish frontier.
In clashes near the Turkish border, rebels killed at least six members of the Syrian security forces and customs officials, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Eight rebel fighters were wounded in the action, which took place in Salama village, between the Syrian town of Azaz and the Turkish town of Kilis, the British-based Observatory said.
The state news agency SANA said nine security men and a civilian were shot dead and 13 wounded in Aleppo, Syria's second city. The Observatory said two policemen were killed in clashes with gunmen in Aleppo, a commercial centre that has generally been pro-Assad.
In Damascus province, four soldiers were killed in the bombing of a convoy as Syrian forces swept villages arresting opposition suspects, the Observatory said.
Security forces on Sunday foiled infiltration attempts of two armed groups from Lebanon into the Homs area, SANA said.
Colonel Qassem Saad al-Deen, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, said on Sunday that at least 1,000 people had been killed during the past week, most of them civilians.
Reports from both sides are difficult to verify independently as the government restricts access for most foreign reporters.
Syria blames the uprising on foreign-backed terrorists determined to destabilize the government.
Assad, who has ruled for 10 years since succeeding his late father, Hafez al-Assad, has laid out his own reform programme but it has been dismissed by the opposition.
The United Nations says government forces have killed 9,000 people in the crackdown, while the government says rebels have killed more than 2,500 soldiers and security personnel.
(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz, Jonathon Burch in Turkey, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Michael Martina in Beijing, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Arshad Mohamed in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Louise Ireland and Angus MacSwan)