Syria rebels no longer respect truce, blame Assad

BEIRUT Mon Jun 4, 2012 3:49pm EDT

1 of 12. Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Habeet, near Idlib, June 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Shaam News Network/Handout

Related Topics

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels said on Monday they were no longer bound by a U.N.-backed truce because President Bashar al-Assad had failed to observe their Friday deadline to implement the ceasefire and had only attacked government forces to defend "our people".

A Syrian opposition watchdog appeared to underline the rebel statement by saying at least 80 Syrian troops were killed in a surge of attacks at the weekend.

International mediator Kofi Annan, due to brief the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly on Thursday, urged major powers to ensure his peace plan was implemented by both sides as it was the "only option on the table". Russia has blunted Western efforts to condemn Assad and push him from power.

The May 25 massacre of at least 108 people, nearly half of them children, in the Houla area of Homs province dealt a possibly fatal blow to Annan's proposed ceasefire, which was supposed to take effect on April 12 but never did.

"We have decided to end our commitment to this (ceasefire)," said Free Syrian Army spokesman Major Sami al-Kurdi. "We have resumed our attacks but we are doing defensive attacks which means we are only attacking checkpoints in the cities."

Kurdi said a U.N. observer mission in Syria should be turned into a "peace-enforcing mission", or that the world should impose a no-fly zone and a buffer zone to help bring Assad down.

Such ideas have gained little traction previously with Western powers, let alone their Russian and Chinese critics.

The latest violence and a defiant speech by Assad on Sunday raised questions about how long Annan can pursue his threadbare peace plan on behalf of the United Nations and the Arab League.

But U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Reuters Annan's mission "remains central" to resolving the Syrian crisis. Annan has inserted 300 U.N. observers into Syria to verify the non-existent truce.

Annan himself "feels that perhaps the time has come, or is approaching, when the international community has to review ... the crisis in Syria and decide what needs to be done to ensure implementation of the six-point plan," his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told Reuters Television in Geneva.

"(Annan) and many others have warned of Syria descending into a bloody, protracted sectarian civil war. We may be there already," said Fawzi.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said local doctors had confirmed the names of 80 government troops killed by the rebels.

Insurgents told the group they had killed more than 100 soldiers and destroyed some tanks in clashes across Syria, including Damascus and Idlib province in the northwest.

Syria's state news agency reported the burial on Monday of 30 members of government forces killed by rebels.

A Syrian troop pullback was at the top of Annan's six-point plan to halt hostilities, allow peaceful protests, supply humanitarian aid and start a political transition in a country controlled by the Assad family with an iron fist for 42 years.

RUSSIA, CHINA ADAMANT

"The Annan mission is essentially dead, and of course most Western powers admit that," said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute's branch in Qatar.

"Houla changed the game completely in terms of what people were willing to accept and what they were not."

Russia and China, wary of any Western-led military intervention in Syria, say Annan's plan is the only way forward, but have twice blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions which would have condemned Damascus and perhaps led to sanctions.

At a summit with EU leaders on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin skirted the issue in public comments.

Western powers have no appetite for Libya-style military action, but have provided no alternative to Annan's efforts.

Assad has rebuffed criticism of the carnage in his country. "When a surgeon performs an operation to treat a wound, do we say to him: 'Your hands are covered in blood'?" he asked in his speech on Sunday. "Or do we thank him for saving the patient?"

Ban, speaking on the sidelines of an Islamic Development Bank meeting in Jeddah, urged Assad's government to stop the violence immediately "in the name of humanity" and to start a political dialogue with his foes.

"We are deeply troubled by what has been going on," the U.N. chief told Reuters. "Annan's plan remains central to the resolution of the Syrian crisis."

U.N. diplomats in New York say it is not clear whether the Security Council will renew the increasingly risky U.N. observer mission to Syria when its 90-day mandate expires around July 20.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby has asked the Security Council to expand the size and beef up the force's mandate, but one diplomat said council members saw many risks involved in that idea, which the Syrians were anyway unlikely to accept.

COAXING MOSCOW

U.S. officials do not appear ready to give up on Annan's Syria mission, instead hoping that Russia, Assad's staunchest backer among major powers, can be coaxed into discussing a diplomatic solution that might lead to his departure.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke by telephone to Annan while in Stockholm on Monday, briefing him on her efforts to engage Russia on a "political transition" to remove Assad from power, a senior U.S. State Department official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Clinton had invited Annan to Washington for talks on Friday and that Clinton expected to meet senior officials from Europe and the Middle East to discuss Syria on Wednesday in Istanbul.

The latest flare-up in violence can only intensify alarm that Syria is sliding deeper into a civil war envenomed by sectarian rancor between Assad's minority Alawites and the Sunni Muslim majority.

France's foreign minister said Syria's troubles must not be allowed to spread to its neighbors, such as Lebanon where 13 people were killed last week in Sunni-Alawite clashes.

"France has an attachment to Lebanon and we very strongly wish to avoid a situation where the people of Lebanon suffer anew from what is happening Syria," Laurent Fabius said after meeting his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle in Berlin.

Both said their governments were urging Russia to step up pressure on Syria to comply with Annan's plan.

Syria's uprising, inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere, began with peaceful protests, but the United Nations says Assad's forces have killed more than 10,000 people since March, 2011.

Damascus accuses armed "terrorists" of killing more than 2,600 soldiers and other members of the security forces.

Moscow has broadly backed Assad's narrative, highlighting rebel violence, criticizing sanctions and saying political decisions cannot not be imposed from outside.

China's top state newspaper, the People's Daily, said that any Western-backed military intervention would unleash even bloodier chaos, and that abandoning Annan's plan could push Syria into the "abyss" of full-scale war.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Asma Alsharif in Jeddah, Denis Dyomkin in St Petersburg, John O'Donnell in Brussels, Chris Buckley in Beijing, Arshad Mohammed in Stockholm and Mahmoud Habboush in Dubai; Writing by Ralph Gowling; Editing by Giles Elgood)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (20)
Austell wrote:
The US wants civil war in Syria AND Lebanon to pave the way for a full scale attack on Iran.

This entire situation is about aggresion and imperialism, and is as old and familiar as the US empire itself with many examples in the past even recently to show that US intentions are always hostile and aggressive.

Russia and China are supporting Syria because they know they were duped over Libya, the alleged ‘massacres’ that triggered that war were not investigated until AFTER the intervention, overthrow and murder of Ghaddafi, and it was discovered that they were HUGE lies… and further, that the opposition consisted largely of terrorists and extreme Islamists.

Ths US can not support the Syrian Islamists directly because it would actually be off-putting for these Jihadis to be fighting for US interests, so instead the strategy is to funnel all support through the US backed dictators in the region – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya.

These regimes are ALL far worse than the Assad government, and they ALL have less political freeom than Syria.

What does that tell you?

That the US and their dictator allies never wanted democracy in Syria, only destruction and instability.

So ever time you see a video of the so called ‘opposition’ in Syria, and hear them screaming AAAAALAAAAAHU AKBAR!!! over and over and over in a bloodcurdling religious fervor firing machineguns wildly and calling for “Death!, Death!, Death to Assad!!”… remember why the US supports them!

They will be betrayed the very second this is over, and Syria is destroyed. Along with their neighbors and friends…

Divide, weaken and conquer.. it’s the oldest trick in the book!

All muslims aligned with the US and their Dictator puppets in the Middle east should be ashamed of themselves!!

The Arab Spring started off OVERTHROWING US BACKED DICTATORS!!!

How is it now helping the US???

You guys need to remember who your REAL friends are.

Jun 03, 2012 10:22pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
gffacif wrote:
Assad monsters could not commit such massacre but “you and your father can” leave the power and move your a** let the people decide to whom they choose to be as their leader. there is no terrorist fighting in syria it is your own people from your own military is fighting you they are “FREE SYRIAN ARMY” don’t divert the attention by saying terrorist. you and your father was the biggest terrorists.

Jun 03, 2012 11:38pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Austell wrote:
“His remarks were at odds with those of U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous – that army shelling killed many Houla victims and that pro-Assad militiamen probably killed the others, many of them women and children.”

No he didn’t… these are REUTERS words, not the UN cheifs.

Why would anyone listen to a US mouthpiece when it comes to this anyway…? US state news (reuters) is the cause of all this death, along with their arab dictator partners, and their terrorist partners at the fake ‘syrian observatory for human rights’.

Famed oppressor of Islam and uprisings everywhere… now you want us all to believe you are with the people and not the ruling classes and tyrants of the world???

How did the bilderberg meeting go by the way? I noticed you didn’t write a story on it… did reuters billionaire owner barons attend?

Jun 04, 2012 8:14am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.