Syrian government assures cease-fire despite reports of widespread violence
BEIRUT — Spasms of fighting convulsed parts of Syria on Thursday, with clashes reported only miles from the capital. The leader of the United Nations said the conflict was getting worse — contradicting the Syrian government’s assurances to a special envoy that it was complying with his cease-fire plan.
The U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, issued a statement requesting that the Syrian government comply with the plan, particularly its April 10 deadline for a military pullback from major cities. The statement reflects the deep doubts of many nations that President Bashar Assad intends to keep his word.
Assad, who describes the opposition as terrorist gangs financed by Syria’s enemies, has habitually reneged on commitments aimed at halting the 13-month-old uprising against him, the most chaotic of the Arab Spring democracy revolts.
The Security Council issued the statement as the special envoy, Kofi Annan, appointed by the U.N. and the Arab League to broker a halt to the Syrian conflict, briefed the General Assembly by videoconference from Geneva on his latest diplomatic entreaties to Assad and the opposition forces aligned against him.
Annan said the Syrian government had informed him of a partial troop pullback from the cities of Idlib, Zabadani and Daraa and had pledged to complete the pullback by April 10.
He also confirmed that an advance U.N. team had arrived in Damascus, the capital, to prepare for the possible deployment of observers who would monitor a cease-fire after the pullback. Annan also announced that he would travel to Iran — Syria’s only remaining significant supporter in the Middle East — on April 11.
But even Annan, a highly practiced diplomat and former U.N. secretary general, showed some barely concealed frustration with Syria’s response so far. “The government has indicated that it will continue to update me on steps it is taking,” he said in the briefing. “But it is clear that more far-reaching action is urgently required.”
The challenge of Annan’s work was underscored by Ban Ki-moon, Annan’s successor as secretary general, who spoke to the General Assembly ahead of the briefing. “Despite the Syrian government’s acceptance of the joint special envoy’s plan of initial proposals to resolve the crisis, the violence and assaults in civilian areas have not stopped,” Ban said. “The situation on the ground continues to deteriorate.”
The U.N. has estimated that more than 9,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, including at least 500 children.