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Damascus Faces Deadline To Withdraw Troops


Smoke billows from the scene of reported shelling in Duma, Syria.

Smoke billows from the scene of reported shelling in Duma, Syria.

Hopes for an end to the bloodletting in Syria suffered a blow as violence continued ahead of a deadline today to withdraw troops from cities as part of a peace plan by the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan.

The intended withdrawal should lead to a cease-fire between the government and rebels 48 hours later.

However, activists confirmed an increase in violence and said there were no signs of a withdrawal.

On April 9, Syrian forces were reported to have fired into border areas inside Lebanon and Turkey, killing a TV journalist in Lebanon and at least two people at a refugee camp in Turkey.

Annan was due to visit Syrian refugees in Turkey on April 10 en route to Tehran for talks with Iranian officials.

Meanwhile, Syria's state-run SANA news agency reported that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was due to hold talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

Russia and China are among the few major countries still backing the government in Damascus.

Washington has expressed anger over the latest cross-border shootings.

"We strongly condemn any attack by the Syrian regime on refugees in bordering countries, and we're absolutely outraged by today's report," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "We join the Turkish government in calling for the Syrian regime to immediately cease fire, and these incidents are just another indication that the Assad regime does not seem at all willing to meet the commitments that it made to Kofi Annan. Not only has the violence not abated, it has been worse in recent days."

Turkey said it would take "appropriate measures" if such an attack was repeated.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "alarmed" at the reports of escalating violence.

In Syria, 150 deaths were reported on April 9, with 50 said killed in Homs and 35 in Hama.

On April 8, Damascus said it would not withdraw its troops without "written guarantees" from the rebels vowing to stop the violence and lay down their weapons.

The opposition Free Syrian Army rejected the demand and vowed to honor promises made to Annan.

Turkey's state-run Anatolian news agency quoted Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru as saying the troop withdrawal deadline as spelled out by the Annan plan was "void."

"April 10 is void; after tomorrow, a new phase starts," Koru was quoted as saying.

Based on dpa, AP and Reuters reporting
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