Sunday, February 18, 2018

Syria derides U.N. chief as deadly clashes continue

BEIRUT — Syria derided U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon as biased and called his comments "outrageous" Saturday after he blamed the regime for widespread cease-fire violations — the latest sign of trouble for an international peace plan many expect to fail.

In new fighting Saturday, activists said regime forces battled army defectors near President Bashar Assad's summer palace in a coastal village and shelled a Damascus suburb in pursuit of gunmen. State media said government troops foiled an attempt by armed men in rubber boats to land on Syria's coast, the first reported attempt by rebels to infiltrate from the sea.

The regime's verbal attack on the U.N. secretary general raised new concerns that Assad is playing for time to avoid compliance with a plan that could eventually force him out of office.

Under special envoy Kofi Annan's six-point road map, a cease-fire is to be followed by the deployment of as many as 300 U.N. truce monitors and talks between Assad and the opposition on Syria's political future. The head of the observer team, Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, is to arrive in Damascus today to assume command, said spokesman Neeraj Singh.

Annan's April 12 cease-fire deadline has been widely ignored. The regime continues to attack opposition strongholds, while rebel fighters keep targeting security forces with roadside bombs and shooting ambushes. Defying a major truce provision, the Syrian military failed to withdraw tanks and soldiers from the streets.

Ban and Annan have cited violations by both sides, but generally portrayed the regime as the main aggressor. On Friday, Ban said Syria's repression of civilians reached an "intolerable stage" and demanded that the regime "live up to its promises to the world." His comments came just hours after a suicide bombing the regime blamed on antigovernment "terrorists" killed 10 people in Damascus.

An editorial Saturday in the state-run Tishrin newspaper said Ban has avoided discussing rebel violence in favor of "outrageous" statements against the Syrian government. The editorial said the international community has applied a double standard, ignoring "crimes and terrorist acts" against Syria and thus encouraging more violence, according to excerpts carried by the state-run news agency Sana.

Mass protests against Assad erupted in March 2011, but gradually turned into an insurgency in response to a violent regime crackdown. Assad's regime denies it faces a popular uprising, claiming it is being targeted by a foreign-led terrorist conspiracy.

In Lebanon, authorities confiscated weapons found aboard a ship intercepted off the Lebanese coast and detained 11 crew members.

The ship reportedly sailed from Libya and stopped in Egypt and the port of Tripoli, Lebanon, en route to Syria. Lebanese media reported that the weapons were intended for Syrian rebels.

The Lebanese army said the Lutfallah II carried a Sierra Leone flag and had three containers filled with "large amounts of weapons and ammunition" on board. The vessel was taken to the port of Selaata, north of Beirut, where the three containers were placed on Lebanese army flatbed trucks and taken away Saturday morning.

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