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Annan Cites 'Alarming' Casualties in Syria, Despite Regime Claims

  • RFE/RL

A video posted on April 5 shows smoke billowing from reported shelling in Duma, outside Damascus.

A video posted on April 5 shows smoke billowing from reported shelling in Duma, outside Damascus.

Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, has told the United Nations that there are fresh reports of "alarming" casualties in Syria, despite government claims that partial troop withdrawals have begun from protest cities.

Annan was briefing the UN General Assembly by video conference from Geneva after the UN Security Council called on Syria to create conditions for a cease-fire plan by honoring its promise for withdrawals by April 10.

"The Security Council calls upon the Syrian government to implement urgently and visibly its commitments as it agreed to do in its communication to the [UN] envoy of 1 April," said Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN.

Annan said he would reach out to opposition forces to secure their agreement to the cease-fire.

"As the [Syrian] government implements its obligations, I will seek a commitment from the opposition to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence," Annan said. "It is agreed that this would require an effective UN supervision mechanism."

Annan also told the UN General Assembly that he could not verify claims by Damascus that the regime had begun withdrawing its forces from towns and cities. Rather, he said, "Clearly, the violence is still continuing."

"Alarming levels of casualties and other abuses continue to be reported daily," he said. "Military operations in civilian population centers have not stopped."

Those operations included fierce artillery and sniper attacks on opposition-dominated suburbs around Damascus. Reports say the offensive is the most violent regime assault near the capital since the yearlong uprising began.

According to The AP, activists said that in the suburb of Douma, snipers were positioned on 20 buildings and shooting at "anything that moved" during eight hours of continuous shelling. Five people are said to have been killed.

There also were reports of intensified government attacks in urban and rural areas elsewhere in the country -- including village-to-village sweeps by the Syrian Army.

The UN said last week that President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown has killed more than 9,000 people. More recent estimates by nongovernmental monitors say the death toll during the past year is now more than 10,000.

The number of refugees fleeing Syria has also spiked this week. Ankara says more than 1,000 crossed into Turkey from midday on April 4 to the afternoon of April 5 -- the most ever in a single day -- bringing the total number there to 21,000. Many also are fleeing to Jordan.

Faruq Tayfur, a member of the executive committee of the opposition Syrian National Council, spoke to Reuters after addressing a conference in Istanbul to generate international support for Syrian people.

"The reality for the Syrian people on the ground is that the violence is continuing from the government side, killings continue, the burning of houses continues," he said. "The shelling of cities, villages, mosques, and places of worship continues. That's why our hope is fading, and [Assad's declared commitment to the UN peace plan] isn't providing any progress on the ground and major action is needed to be taken against the government."

Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told reporters that a UN-deployed team led by Norwegian Major General Robert Mood arrived in Damascus on April 5 to begin talks with Syrian authorities on "the eventual deployment of this UN supervision and monitoring mission."

With reporting by AP and Reuters

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