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Syria peace plan 'still on the table', Annan says
UN/Arab League envoy Kofi Annan insisted his peace plan for Syria was still alive, despite Damascus defying a ceasefire deal. Under Annan’s deal, government and opposition forces must end all hostilities by 6 am Thursday.
Syrian government forces withdrew from some cities ahead of Tuesday’s deadline - but had moved on to new targets, UN Arab League and UN Envoy Kofi Annan said in what appeared to be an admission of failure. Assad's guns still had cities “within firing range”, he said.
According to a UN Security Council plan, all Syrian troops and heavy weapons should have been withdrawn from urban areas in order to have a ceasefire in place within 48 hours.
"The days before 10 April should have been an opportunity for the Government of Syria to send a powerful political signal of peace, with action on all aspects of the six-point (peace) plan," he said.
Despite evidence that the Syrian regime was not complying – 31 people were killed on Tuesday according to rights groups - Annan said it was still too early to write the plan off completely.
“The plan is still on the table and is a plan we are all fighting to implement,” he told reporters in Hatay, Turkey, after touring a nearby camp of Syrians who fled to the area.
But many continue to doubt Assad’s willingness to end the violence. Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights told AFP that no military retreat had been reported. Other activists told AFP that targets in the northern city of Aleppo and in Homs had been bombed.
Annan, visiting a Syrian refugee camp in southern Turkey, also complained that Syria had introduced new truce conditions over the weekend, including seeking written assurances that armed groups are prepared to stop all violence and that that these groups should disarm immediately.
“I again appeal to the Syrian government and the Syrian parties to cease violence in accordance (with) the plan,” he told reporters. “I believe there should be no preconditions for stopping violence.”
An ‘unacceptable lie’
Meanwhile, Syria insisted that it is complying with the peace plan that it had accepted on April 2.
Visiting Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem claimed the regime was complying with the truce deal and that Syria had “already withdrawn forces and army units from several Syrian provinces.”
But such statements were not cutting much ice elsewhere. In France, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero called Moallem’s claim “a new expression of this flagrant and unacceptable lie.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague accused Syria of exploiting the deadline “as a cover for intensified military efforts to crush the opposition.”
Even Moscow, which has shown itself to be a firm ally to Damascus, was critical. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Syria's efforts to implement the plan could have been more active and resolute.”
But the tension was building up on an entirely different diplomatic front.
The day after the Syrian army shelled Turkish territory, injuring six people at a Syrian refugee camp, the country’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was a “clear violation” of common borders.
“We will take all necessary measures,” he said, accusing Syrian soldiers of pitilessly “shooting people in the back who were running away from them,” according to the Anatolia press agency.
Syria hit back, accusing Turkey of undermining Kofi Annan’s peace plan by deliberately supporting the rebels.
"Turkey hosts Syrian armed groups, has built training camps for them, lets them illegally cross into Syria and smuggle arms (to Syria) across its territory," Mouallem said at the Moscow press conference.
Erdogan has not specified what he means by “all necessary measures” – although the Turkish press has published a certain number of “crisis scenarios”, including the creation of a buffer zone along the Syrian border.
On Monday Turkish daily Millyet said that the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey had reached 50,000, of which 25,000 are in camps along the border, and that Ankara was considering creating “humanitarian corridors” protected by the Turkish army.