Syria has agreed to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to expand its work in the country as a UN advance team arrived in Damascus on Thursday.
|The Joint Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan (L) poses with Major-General Robert Mood of Norway during a meeting at the United Nations in Geneva April 4, 2012. Major-General Mood will head the planning team that is expected to arrive in Damascus very soon, to discuss the modalities of the eventual deployment of a U.N. supervision and monitoring mission. |
ICRC officials would resume visits to detention centers, stalled since September, with a visit planned to detainees in custody at Aleppo central prison, the statement said.
Syrian officials and Kellenberger also reached an agreement on a procedure under which the agency could request a humanitarian pause in the fighting in an area so as to evacuate the wounded and bring in supplies, spokesman Hicham Hassan said.
The humanitarian development came as an advance UN team led by Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood arrived in the Syrian capital for talks with Syrian officials on the deployment of troops to monitor a UN-backed ceasefire, the spokesman for mediator Kofi Annan said on Thursday.
"The planning team are all in Damascus now. There are about 10 or 11 of them," Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told Reuters in Geneva.
The peacekeeping team flew into the Syrian capital from Geneva and New York to negotiate deployment of 200-250 unarmed monitors to be deployed after the agreed April 10 deadline for Syria to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons from cities.
Syria was given a deadline of April 10 to withdraw all its military forces from civilian centers, followed within 48 hours by a halt to the fighting by both sides.
Syrian authorities told UN special envoy Kofi Annan that it had already begun withdrawing its forces from three flashpoint cities.
"Yes they have told us that they have begun withdrawing troops from certain areas," Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva. "They have specified three cities – Daraa, Idlib, and Zabadani."
Fawzi said UN member states were being asked to provide troops for a ceasefire monitoring mission, to be deployed in Syria after April 10.
Media reports that 200 to 250 unarmed monitors would be deployed were "not very far off", he told journalists, adding the force would be deployed incrementally.
Fawzi said the mediators were trying to verify the reported withdrawals.
"What we expect on the 10th of April is that the Syrian government will have completed its withdrawal from populated centers...that it would have stopped moving any military units into cities and that we begin a 48-hour period during which there will be a complete cessation of all forms of violence by all parties with 48 hours that includes of course the Syrian opposition and the Syrian government," Fawzi said.
"So the clock starts ticking on the 10th for both sides to cease all forms of violence," he added.
Annan would hold talks in Tehran on April 11 with senior Iranian officials on Syria, he said, referring to Syria's major ally in the region.
But fighting was said to have continued in the restive Damascus countryside suburb of Douma, according to two activist sources.
Explosions and heavy machine gun fire rocked the neighborhood, activists from the Revolutionary Council of the Damascus Countryside said.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said army reinforcements were being sent into Douma as fighting continued amid unconfirmed reports of civilian casualties.
The Syrian army also laid to rest 16 of its personnel killed in clashes with armed rebels on Wednesday in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's official news agency, SANA, reported.
It is difficult to verify accounts of violence in Syria due to tight media restrictions and the deteriorating security situation. Meanwhile, Turkey's disaster and emergency management authority said 1,622 Syrians had fled to Turkey in the last two days, bringing the total number there to 21,285, of which 65 were in hospital. The numbers fleeing were the highest since March 15 when about 1,000 Syrians entered Turkey in one day. Since then, about 300 to 400 Syrians have fled each day.
Turkish leaders have previously warned of establishing a buffer zone inside Syrian territory if it witnesses a mass exodus of refugees streaming onto its territory.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that setting up a "safe" or "buffer" zone along the border was among the options his government was considering.
But the likelihood of such a plan being realized seems unlikely as world powers throw their weight behind Annan's efforts to bring about a peaceful, political solution to the crisis.
UNSC calls on Syria to implement peace plan; Russia demands same of rebels
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia urged Syrian peace envoy Kofi Annan on Thursday to also put pressure on the rebels after the UN Security Council called on the regime to keep a deadline on troop withdrawals.
The actions of Friends of Syria group of states jeopardize realization of the UN peace plan for Syria, undermining international efforts to end violence in the country, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said.
“Everybody backed (Kofi) Annan’s (peace) plan,” he noted. “Then all of a sudden another meeting of the Friends of Syria group makes decisions, urging (the Syrian) opposition to refuse negotiations and arm, promising new sanctions (against Syria).”
Lavrov stressed this undermines actions to stop violence in the country that the Friends of Syria want to deal with the Syrian opposition only, making the deadlock irresolvable.
While the UN tries to solve the Syrian situation peacefully, the Friends of Syria summit announced plans that threaten to make the UN’s effort in vain. The U.S. has announced it is going to spend $12 million on the Syrian opposition, twice as much as it promised before.
The Gulf States of Saudi Arabia and Qatar expressed readiness to pay salaries to the armed opposition members, making them look more like an army of mercenaries than opposition activists.
Earlier, these two countries spoke in favor of arming the Syrian opposition so as it can “defend” itself against the regular army of Syria. The Friends of Syria summit also recognized the opposition Turkey-based Syrian National Council as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people – without actually taking the people’s opinion into account.
All other members of the group expressed support to the Syrian opposition and none to official Damascus.
Friends of Syria have already agreed on holding another summit – this time in France.
In the meantime, the delegation of the UN is expected to arrive into Syria within the next 48 hours.
The Syrian government has expressed its commitment to Kofi Annan’s peace plan. The government of President Bashar Assad agreed on the ceasefire deadline be set on April 10, and has already begun to withdraw troops from the calmer cities.
As for the opposition, it remains unclear whether the major armed opposition group, the Free Syrian Army, will abide by the ceasefire.
“Even if the Syrian opposition were armed to teeth, it would not be able to beat the government’s forces,” insists the Russian FM. “They expect to attract external forces.”
Lavrov says both the Syrian government and the international forces should closely follow UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s mission in Syria in order to achieve success.
Ex-employee: Al Jazeera provided Syrian rebels with satphones
Al Jazeera has supplied Syrian rebels with satellite communication tools to ensure telephone and Internet connection, claims Ali Hashim, a former correspondent of the Qatar-funded channel. The equipment was smuggled from Lebanon, he told RT. He said the channel also paid $50,000 for smuggling phones and other tools across the Syrian border to ensure they would get an inside picture.
A month ago, Hashim and two other correspondents working for Al Jazeera in Lebanon, stepped down from their jobs over a dispute over how the Arab Spring should be covered. Reporting popular unrest in Bahrain and Syria revealed the acutest differences between the men and their employer.
“The channel was taking a certain stance. It was meddling with each and every detail of reports on the Syrian revolution. At the same time it was almost covering up what was going on in Bahrain,” recalls Hashim.
The journalist says Qatar authorities actually decided the channel’s agenda and created their own version of the Syrian crisis.
“We went to the border between Lebanon and Syria. There it became obvious that militants entered Syria from Lebanon to clash with the Syrian regular army, which was 3 kilometers away from the border,” Hashim told RT.
“We took photos of those people, but the channel declined them. I was asked to forget about the militants and to return to Beirut,” he says.
The Syrian government has repeatedly slammed the unbalanced coverage of the uprising by some Arab news channels. But Hashim remarks that both sides of this conflict are playing dirty: while some media are siding with the rebels, omitting reports of the militants’ atrocities against civilians, the Syrian regime’s media behave as if there were no calls for freedoms and reforms in the country.
— Reuters, TAAN, Al-Akhbar, RT