Syrian Rebels Retreat From Eastern City as Annan Plans New Visit

United Nations envoy Kofi Annan plans to return to Damascus in a new push to end the unrest in Syria, where government forces made gains against rebels in the east and pounded the central city of Hama.

At least 42 people, including two children and two women, were killed across the country yesterday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees in Syria said in an e-mail. Troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad bombarded several neighborhoods of Hama, pushing residents to leave for safer areas, it said.

In the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, opposition fighters were forced to flee yesterday in the face of a fierce army assault, Al Jazeera television said, citing a statement from the Deir al-Zour Revolution Committees Union. “The Free Syrian Army pulled out to avoid a civilian massacre,” the group said.

Syrian troops have seized the key urban opposition strongholds of Homs and Idlib this month, forcing fighters from the lightly armed Free Syrian Army to retreat into the countryside. Annan’s first visit to Syria earlier this month ended without a deal as Assad’s forces intensified attacks on rebel strongholds to try and extinguish the uprising, pushing the death toll from a year of fighting above 8,000 people.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said a number of law-enforcement officers were killed yesterday in a suicide bomb attack in the countryside in the southern province of Daraa.

Annan will return to Damascus “very soon” in an effort to end the violence and defuse the humanitarian crisis, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said at a seminar in Jakarta today.

Ban said he has been in constant touch with Annan and with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi. “It is necessary for all of us to work together to help the Special Envoy create the political space required for progress towards a solution,” he said.

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