SyriaViolence has continued in Syria despite a UN-backed deadline for a complete withdrawal of troops and weapons coming into effect.

Activists reported shelling in Homs and areas of northern Aleppo province, and unrest in the capital, Damascus.

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, on a visit to Russia, said Damascus had taken steps to adhere to the plan by withdrawing some troops.

He blamed “armed gangs” for the ongoing violence.

Under the peace plan – negotiated by the UN and Arab League’s special envoy on the Syrian crisis, Kofi Annan – Syrian troops were to have completed their withdrawal from population centres and stopped the use of heavy weaponry by Tuesday, ahead of a full ceasefire coming into place on Thursday.

Damascus had agreed to the deadline, but on Sunday demanded written guarantees first that its opponents would give up arms, along with a promise from foreign states not to fund them, effectively rejecting the plan.

The government said it did not want the rebels to exploit any troop withdrawal to reorganise and rearm themselves.

The Free Syrian Army, the main armed rebel group, refused to meet the new demands.

Speaking after talks with his Russian counterpart in Moscow, Mr Muallem said some army units had been withdrawn from some areas, a number of detainees released and agreement reached on getting humanitarian aid to those in need.

But he said that “despite all these positive measures we noticed on a daily basis the escalation of opposition by the armed terrorist gangs”.

Mr Muallem said a ceasefire could only come into force once a team of international observers had arrived, but also accused Turkey of supplying militant groups with weapons and allowing them to cross its borders, AFP reports.

He said Syria could not fulfil its side of the plan “if there are still illegal arms deliveries and moving of militants from Turkey”.

Russia is one of Syria’s closest allies and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council has vetoed resolutions condemning Damascus.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian government “could have been more active and decisive” in implementing the plan, but that Mr Muallem had assured him Damascus was committed to it.

Success rested on those countries with influence over the opposition groups putting pressure on them to abide by a ceasefire as well, he said.

‘Assad thugs’

Government troops began shelling the western city of Homs again early on Tuesday morning, say activists, while military activity was also reported in Aleppo province and other areas.

One Damascus resident told the BBC that violence in the capital had doubled in recent days and that one protest was attacked by “Assad thugs”.

“They opened fire and I think some people were injured. I expect more street fighting in the coming days,” he said.

On Monday, several people in a refugee camp in Turkey were injured by shots fired across the border from inside Syria. Two people were also shot dead as they approached the border from the Syrian side.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking on a trip to China, said the incidents were a “clear violation” of its borders and that his country would “take the necessary measures” in response.

Mr Erdogan was accompanied on his visit by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, but Turkish media reported that Mr Davutoglu was ending his trip early because of developments in Syria.

Turkey now hosts some 24,000 Syrians, including hundreds of army defectors, and has seen a sharp rise in the number of refugees coming over the border in the past week.

Mr Annan was visiting some of the Turkish camps on Tuesday to assess the situation and hear from people who had fled the violence, accompanied by US politicians John McCain and Joe Lieberman.

“We wish that Kofi Annan would help us,” one refugee told the Associated Press news agency. “He should see for himself if the Syrians are oppressed or not and tell the Security Council that we are oppressed.”

Separately, Lebanon has condemned the killing of a Lebanese cameraman, Ali Shaaban, who was shot on Lebanon’s northern border with Syria.

Syrian media blamed “armed terrorist gangs” for the death, but Lebanon’s al-Jadeed TV station cited reports that plain-clothed Syrian security forces had fired on Mr Shaaban’s car after he was seen filming in the area.

The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed in the uprising against Mr Assad’s rule which began more than a year ago.

In February, the Syrian government put the death toll at 3,838 – 2,493 civilians and 1,345 security forces personnel.


 

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