Syrian Forces Press Offensive Three Days Before Cease-Fire Start

Syrian troops pressed on with their attacks on opposition forces before a promised April 10 military pullback from cities to end more than a year of fighting.

Syrian forces killed at least 53 civilians today, including 40 in Aellatamna when government forces stormed the town in central Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement. Troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad also shelled Homs and carried out strikes in Hama, the U.K.- based rights group said.

Western nations and their Arab allies say they have seen little sign of restraint from Syrian forces since Assad pledged to United Nations envoy Kofi Annan on April 2 to stop using heavy weapons on civilians and begin withdrawing from population centers. The situation in Syria “continues to deteriorate” as the government keeps up attacks on cities and towns, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on April 5 in an address to members of the UN General Assembly in New York.

At least 9,000 people have been killed in the yearlong conflict, the UN estimates. A group of UN officials arrived in Damascus on April 5 to begin preparations for a cease-fire monitoring force if the Syrian government complies.

Syrian Accusations

Syria accused “armed terrorist groups” of increasing their attacks during the “last few days,” the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported today, citing two government letters addressed to the president of the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary General. These groups are backed by Arab and Western countries, the news service said.

Syria says it is fighting foreign terrorists, armed gangs and Islamists, and blames countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the U.S. for aiding the opposition. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said earlier this month that the kingdom supports arming the Syrian rebels so they can defend themselves.

The Security Council urged Assad on April 5 to stop using heavy weapons against the Syrian opposition and to “urgently and visibly” withdraw his forces from cities under an agreement negotiated by Annan. The Council asked all groups to cease armed violence within 48 hours of implementation of the pullback pledge.

Eight army personnel and four members of Syrian intelligence died in fighting today, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Glen Carey in Riyadh at gcarey8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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