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Syria Army Press Attacks Three Days Before Cease-Fire Start

April 7 (Bloomberg) -- 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 74 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. Al Jazeera reported at least 125 killed, including 70 in Hama.

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.

Satellite image posted on the Facebook of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus showed that the Syrian government removed forces on April 5 from some areas, including Da’el in Daraa province and Taftanaz in Idlib following several days of assaults. In one case, the Syrian army “simply moved” armored vehicles from Taftanaz to the nearby town of Zirdana, according to the U.S. Embassy.

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.

At least 9,000 people have been killed in the yearlong conflict, the UN estimates. Eight army personnel and four members of Syrian intelligence died in fighting today, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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. The same day, the Security Council urged Assad 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.

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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