Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fierce fighting puts Syrian cease-fire in doubt as U.N. deadline looms

BEIRUT — Syrian forces killed dozens of people in fierce fighting across the country Saturday, with some activist groups reporting more than 100 dead, just three days before a U.N. peace plan deadline for troops to withdraw from urban areas.

Representatives of activist groups near the city of Hama described an attack on the nearby town of Latameneh, where demonstrations have been held since the beginning of the year-long uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule.

More than 70 people died in the assault, including five members of the loosely organized group known as the Free Syrian Army, according to a member of the Syrian Revolution General Command who uses the pseudonym Abo Adnan.

Other opposition groups reported dozens of people were killed elsewhere, including armed opponents of the government and security forces members. None of the accounts could be verified because Syria restricts journalists' access.

Violence continued despite Syria's agreement almost a week ago to implement a plan by Kofi Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, that requires troops to withdraw from towns by Tuesday and calls for access for humanitarian groups.

U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who has left the country for security reasons, issued a statement late Friday saying that the United States and the Friends of Syria group of nations sympathetic to the opposition are "closely monitoring whether these required actions (of the agreement) are occurring or not."

Ford posted satellite images on the embassy's Facebook page that he said showed places where armored vehicles and artillery units had been moved out of inhabited areas but remained close enough to fire on civilians. Two such places, he said, were Zabadani and Homs, both of which have a strong opposition presence.

"The regime and the Syrian people should know that we are watching," his statement said. "The regime cannot hide the truth."

Syrian state media reported that government officials have written to the United Nations asserting that terrorist groups and al-Qaida "elements" have also stepped up operations since Annan's plan was endorsed.

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