Photo by Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images.
UPDATE: Looks like it’s over before it even began. Days before the peace plan brokered by U.N./Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was due to take effect, the Syrian government made new demands of the opposition that were quickly rejected. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime said Sunday that before it withdraws troops from urban centers on Tuesday as scheduled by the terms of the peace plan, it wants a written guarantee from the opposition that it will stop fighting, reports Reuters. The commander of the Free Syrian Army quickly told the Associated Press it would not fulfill the government’s unilateral demand.
Annan’s peace plan calls for a troop withdrawal Tuesday and then a full ceasefire Thursday. Annan had expressed “shock” at the escalation in violence over the weekend as the ceasefire approached. Saturday was one of the deadliest days in the uprising against Assad with as many as 160 people killed, notes the BBC.
Saturday, April 7: Local activists say at least 133 people have been killed in Syria Saturday in what would be one of the deadliest days since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began, reports the BBC. CNN reports that 110 people have been killed, including eight women and five children. The Associated Press publishes a more conservative estimate, saying that at least 53 civilians have been killed.
The stepped up offensive comes as cease-fire approaches that would force Assad to withdraw all troops from towns and cities by Tuesday. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that Assad’s regime that it should not use the upcoming ceasefire as an “excuse for continued killing,” reports the AP.
Meanwhile the U.S. Embassy in Damascus posted a message from Ambassador Robert Ford to its Facebook page including satellite images that put into doubt the government’s compliance with the troop withdrawals. Although a few photographs do show some troops have been withdrawn, others illustrate how troops have merely switched locations and how the regime has maintained artillery units close to residential areas.
“The regime and the Syrian people should know that we are watching,” reads the statement. “The regime cannot hide the truth.”
Friday, April 6: Just four days before the deadline for Syrian troop withdrawal as part of U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's cease-fire plan for the country, fighting between Syrian forces and the opposition appears to be intensifying.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said violence in the country was worsening, with continuing attacks on populated areas, reports Reuters. Activists say there was tank fire in three urban areas: Douma, Homs and Rastan.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to implement Annan's six-point peace plan, which requires Syrian troops to withdraw from populated areas 48 hours before an April 12 cease fire in the country. As Reuters notes, Assad has also pledged to hold a parliamentary election on May 7.
Meanwhile, Syrian refugees are fleeing to Turkey in record numbers, CNN reports. More than 23,000 Syrian refugees now live in Turkey, and 2,741 arrived in one 24-hour period just days before the troop pullback deadline.
Thursday, April 5: According to a spokesperson for U.N. envoy Kofi Annan, Syria has started to withdraw troops from three areas as part of a peace plan president Bashar al-Assad agreed to implement.
Reuters reports that Annan's office is still trying to verify that troop withdrawal has begun. In the meantime, there are no signs that violence is abating in the country after more than a year of unrest.
Syrian troops clashed with opposition fighters near Damascus as an advance diplomatic team from the U.N.'s peacekeeping department arrived in the capital city on Thursday to prepare for a full deployment, pending a U.N. Security Council resolution.
As the BBC notes, activists are also reporting fresh shelling in Homs, Deraa and the Douma.
Wednesday, April 4: Violence erupted yet again in Syria on Wednesday, mere hours after the Assad regime said that it had begun withdrawing troops from cities as part of an international cease-fire plan brokered by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan.
CNN reports that activists say that at least 70 people were killed in the past 24 hours. The latest round of violence—which included clashes between government troops and opposition forces in a number of cities—came shortly after an unnamed Syrian official told the Associated Press that the government had begun pulling out troops from population centers deemed "calm."
But despite President Bashar al-Assad acceptance of the U.N. peace plan, his regime appears to have done little to follow through on its promises to date. Reuters reports that since Assad signed off on the plan on March 27, Amnesty International has counted 232 deaths in the country, indicating that it is having "no impact on the ground."
An advance diplomatic team from the U.N.'s peacekeeping department is expected to arrive in the country some time on Thursday.
Monday, April 2, 12:40 p.m.: U.N. envoy Kofi Annan told the Security Council on Monday that Syria has agreed to an April 10 deadline to begin implementing his six-point peace plan, the BBC reports.
Annan briefed the council during a closed-door session Monday, asking the 15-nation panel to back the deadline, which would be followed by a full ceasefire within 48 hours.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepted the peace plan last week, but so far there has been little to suggest his regime would follow through on its commitment to help end the violence.
Monday, April 2: Kofi Annan is expected to brief the U.N. Security Council Monday on the results of his peace mission to Syria, after more than 70 people died in clashes across the country over the weekend.
As Reuters reports, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has explained the continued attacks in the country as necessary in order to secure Syria's urban zones. Opposition activists, however, see things differently: "It seems like the government took Kofi Annan's plan the opposite way round," Homs activist Waleed Fares explained. "Annan said to withdraw tanks, they bring more. He said to stop shelling, they shelled more."
Annan's six-point peace plan, which Assad accepted last week, has not stopped Syrian troops and rebels from fighting in the country despite its cease-fire requirement.
Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to end the violence in Syria move from condemning Assad's regime to funding those who oppose him.
Sunday, April 1: A coalition of around 83 countries that includes the United States and its allies, vowed to provide millions of dollars a month to Syrian rebels and the opposition, as well as communications equipment, reports the Associated Press. The move by Western and Arab allies at the “Friends of the Syrian People” conference in Istanbul signals that the international community believes it must move beyond sanctions if it hopes to end the killing being carried out by President Bashar al-Assad.
Arab nations have pledged to supply $100 million to pay opposition fighters in the Free Syrian Army, while the Obama administration will be sending the communications equipment, specifies the New York Times. There’s widespread hope that the offer to pay rebels will lead to a higher number of defections from the Syrian army. Even though the cash will supposedly be used exclusively to pay for salaries, it’s unclear whether there are going to be controls preventing the money from being diverted to buy weapons, notes the AP.
There is still no consensus on whether the group should also arm its rebels, but there are hints Washington could be willing to look the other way. The Financial Times points out that the United States, the United Kingdom, and Turkey all gave signs Sunday that they could accept a proposal for Saudi Arabia and Qatar to arm the Free Syrian Army unless Assad ends his attacks on the population.
In a statement, the U.S. and its allies issued a statement expressing support for the U.N./Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan's peace mission in Syria, but emphasized Assad's time was running out, reports Reuters. Despite Annan’s efforts to quell the bloodshed, at least 41 people were killed across Syria on Sunday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.