Syrian Promise to Halt Attacks Met With Scepticism
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad receives the gift of a sword from religious leaders in Damascus. Syria’s plan to halt military activity has been met with international scepticism. Photograph: Sana/Reuters
Syria has announced a halt to all military operations from Thursday morning as required by Kofi Annan’s UN-backed plan for a ceasefire and negotiations to end the bloodiest crisis of the Arab spring.
On a day that saw intense international diplomatic activity and more attacks across the country, the Assad regime appeared to have bowed to mounting pressure to comply with the demand for an end to the violence.
Sana, Syria’s state news agency, quoted a “responsible source” in the defence ministry as saying “the mission to combat criminal and terrorist activity by armed groups had been successful” and that it would end on Thursday morning.
Syrian opposition activists and western governments were sceptical about the sincerity of the statement from Damascus, which was hailed by Annan during a visit to Tehran as a sign that Assad was preparing to comply.
“If everyone respects it, I think by six in the morning on Thursday we shall see improved conditions on the ground,” the former UN chief said. But he added that the Syrian government was still seeking assurances that opposition forces would also stop fighting “so that we could see cessation of all the violence”.
In Istanbul, the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, accused Assad of “playing for time”.
Sana said that the “heroic armed forces” would be ready to respond to any attack. Syria told Annan it reserved the “right to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups”.
Diplomats monitoring the situation said Wednesday’s violence was less intense than in the previous few days, though military operations were continuing. Reports from Hama described 20 tanks moving into the city centre, while the central town of Rastan came under army shelling.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission reported at least 16 people killed, most of them in Deraa, Homs and the Damascus area. Five of those died under torture, it said. Fighting was also reported between government troops and the rebel Free Syrian Army in Deraa and Idlib. Shots fired by Syrian troops hit a refugee camp on the Turkish side of the border