Syrian army accused of attacks ahead of ceasefire


BEIRUT – Opposition activists have accused Syrian troops of shelling two cities 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 yesterday, killing three soldiers in separate actions in northern Syria, activists said.

Dr Assad has agreed to a ceasefire negotiated by international peace envoy Kofi Annan from April 10th, the latest effort to end a year of bloodshed stemming from an uprising against his rule.

An advance team from the UN peacekeeping department is due in Damascus this week to see how observers can monitor the truce, Mr Annan’s spokesman said in Geneva.

However Syrian opposition figures, as well as Western governments, have made clear they are not convinced that Dr Assad, who has failed to honour past commitments, would keep his word.

An opposition activist, Mortadha al-Rashid, speaking from Damascus, said the western border town of Zabadani was taking a pounding. “The regime shows no signs of stopping,” Mr Rashid said. “There are people being shelled in Zabadani right now.”

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 were 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 10th, but it’s from now that Mr Assad must begin implementing the immediate measures he has committed to.

“If the regime continues its refusals, its massacres, then it will be pouring scorn on and insulting the entire international community,” Mr Valero said.

The United Nations estimates that Dr 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 said 10 soldiers and policemen were buried with honours on Monday. – (Reuters)