Syria Violence Persists as Government Says Pullout Began

Twenty-seven Syrians were killed in clashes between rebels and the army today as the United Nations said it has been informed by the government that troops are being withdrawn in line pledges by President Bashar al-Assad.

“The Syrians have informed us that they have pulled back troops from certain areas,” Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for UN special envoy Kofi Annan, said in an e-mailed response to questions today. “We are in the process of verifying that information.”

Western nations and their Arab allies say they have seen little sign of restraint from Syrian forces since Assad promised UN envoy Kofi Annan he will initiate a cease-fire on April 10. Amnesty International says it has recorded 232 deaths since Assad agreed to the plan on March 27. The death toll from the yearlong conflict is above 9,000, the UN says.

A UN planning team sent to Syria to discuss the eventual deployment of a UN monitoring mission arrived in Damascus today, Fawzi said.

Clashes took place today in the central cities of Homs and Hama, the northern governorate of Idlib and the Damascus suburb of Douma, and among the 27 killed were three children, the Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mail.

“We are not aware of any signs of military withdrawal till this moment,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, in a phone interview. “The shelling and violence is as normal.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week warned Western and Arab nations against arming the Syrian rebels, saying it would lead to a prolonged conflict. Syria’s opposition is still counting on foreign involvement, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dahlia Kholaif in Kuwait at; Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Shaji Mathew at

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