* Rebels, army clash in north as Homs shelled
* Activists dismiss April 10 ceasefire pledge
* Turkey says U.N. complicit in oppression
* U.N. advance team due in Damascus
By Dominic Evans
BEIRUT, April 3 Opposition activists accused
Syrian troops of shelling two cities on Tuesday in a campaign to
weaken forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad's government
before a ceasefire deadline next week.
Rebel fighters also kept up their attacks, killing three
soldiers in separate actions in northern Syria, activists said.
Assad has agreed to a ceasefire negotiated by international
peace envoy Kofi Annan from April 10, the latest effort to end a
year of bloodshed stemming from an uprising against his rule.
An advance team from the U.N. peacekeeping department is due
in Damascus this week to see how observers can monitor the
truce, Annan's spokesman said in Geneva.
But Syrian opposition figures as well as Western governments
have made clear they are not convinced that Assad, who has
failed to honour past commitments, would keep his word.
"He is a liar," said Waleed al-Fares, an opposition activist
in Homs, a city which came to symbolise the anti-Assad struggle
as opposition-held areas endured weeks of bombardments and
Fares said Assad was playing for time to gain the upper hand
over poorly armed rebel forces which have been driven from city
strongholds in the past two months.
Targets in Homs were coming under shelling on Tuesday, he
said. Another opposition activist, Mortadha al-Rashid, told
Reuters from Damascus that the western border town of Zabadani
was also taking a pounding.
"The regime shows no signs of stopping. There are people
being shelled in Zabadani right now," Rashid said.
In violence elsewhere, rebel fighters killed one soldier in
a clash in northern Idlib province, according to the opposition
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitor
which collates reports from inside Syria.
Armed men also attacked the home of a military director of
logistics in Aleppo, killing two guards, the Observatory said.
France said it would hold a meeting in the next two weeks to
discuss sanctions on Syria to ensure they are implemented ahead
of the next "Friends of Syria" meeting due to be held in Paris.
"Given the news that we're getting today of the ongoing
crackdown in Syria, this commitment must begin now," Foreign
Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
"There is a final date of April 10, but it's from now that
Mr Assad must begin implementing the immediate measures he has
"If the regime continues its refusals, its massacres, then
it will be pouring scorn on and insulting the entire
international community," he said.
The United Nations estimates Assad's forces have killed more
than 9,000 people in the past year, while the government says
about 3,000 security personnel have been killed by what it
describes as foreign-backed gangs of terrorists.
The Syrian state news agency SANA said 10 soldiers and
policemen were buried with honours on Monday.
Accounts of the violence can be difficult to verify because
the Syrian government restricts access to Western journalists.
SANA said Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem met the
president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob
Kellenberger, and agreed on "a cooperation mechanism" for
It made no mention of the ICRC's call for a daily two-hour
ceasefire to provide aid and evacuate the wounded.
TURKEY BLAMES U.N.
The opposition Syrian National Council has endorsed Annan's
six-point peace plan but made no official comment on the April
10 ceasefire target. Rebels of the Free Syrian Army have said
they will stop shooting if tanks and artillery withdraw from
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused the U.N.
Security Council of indirectly supporting the "oppression" of
the Syrian people by failing to adopt a united stance on Syria.
"In not taking a decision, the U.N. Security Council has
indirectly supported the oppression. To stand by with your hands
and arms tied while the Syrian people are dying every day is to
support the oppression," Erdogan told members of his party.
Annan, who acts for the United Nations and the Arab League,
told the U.N. Security Council on Monday he would have liked to
see a ceasefire sooner. Some council members were concerned that
the next week could be used to intensify army operations.
Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi, speaking in Geneva, said the
aim was to bring a complete end to hostilities by April 12.
A U.N. peacekeeping advance team was due in Damascus in the
next two days to discuss the deployment of monitors, Fawzi said.
A team of up to 250 unarmed observers is envisaged although it
will require a Security Council resolution.
Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari,
said Damascus would not take all the blame if the plan failed
and Annan must also get the armed opposition to comply.
"A plan wouldn't be successful unless everybody is committed
to it," Ja'afari said in New York.
Many foreign governments fear the conflict could descend
into a full-scale civil war and drag in other Middle East
players if it carries on much longer.
But Arab League states have backed away from earlier demands
that Assad - whose family has ruled Syria for four decades -
step down immediately and are focusing on Annan's initiative,
which imposes no conditions on the president.