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Damascus suburbs almost clear of troops as deadline comes

04-10-2012 22:11 BJT Special Report:Crisis in Syria |

DAMASCUS, April 10 (Xinhua) -- As the pullout deal brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan went into effect on Tuesday, all restive suburbs of the Syrian capital of Damascus seem clear of troops except at the entrance checkpoints.

The Syrian government has announced its approval on the UN- backed deal, which calls for a troop withdrawal from populated areas by April 10 and a cease-fire by April 12. The plan aims to pave the way for a political settlement to the 13-month-old revolt against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The mediated truce is deemed as a last-ditch attempt to solve Syria's crisis politically and save the country from an all-out civil war, however skepticism rides high over the prospects of the plan, as the Syrian government insists upon a written guarantee that the rebels will act in tune with the pullout as a precondition of the plan's implementation.

Xinhua team toured on Tuesday several hotbeds of unrest around Damascus to take a glimpse of whether there were any signs of a military pullout. The team headed to the southern suburbs of Daraya and Muadamya as well as the northern countryside of Harasta and Douma.

In Daraya and Muadamya, which were the first legs of the tour, army checkpoints were seen at the main entrances and exits, which bore severe clashes between armed rebels and government troops. Inside the areas, some of the shops were closed and some walls seemed freshly painted to cover the slogans written by protesters.

Other than that, there was no military presence inside either area.

In Harasta and Douma, in addition to the entrance checkpoints, some soldiers were seen behind sand makeshift barriers, stationing close to army and security compounds there, and only one tank was spotted stationing at the entrance of Douma.

Similarly to Daraya and Muadamya, some walls were also recently painted to cover the slogans and obscenities in Harasta and Douma.

A soldier manning a checkpoint in Harasta told Xinhua that in the daytime the situation tends to be normal; however, "almost every day, from 8:00 p.m. till 1:00 a.m., armed men carry out some attacks on the checkpoints, shooting from a distance and fleeing the scene... Sometimes when the shooting is intense we need to fire back to defend ourselves."

Another soldier, manning a checkpoint at the entrance of Douma, told Xinhua that the armed groups have almost been eliminated overnight Monday.

A mid-age man riding a bicycle with his two kids in Douma slowed down near Xinhua's car and said that he goes out only during the day because every night they hear gunshots.

Syrian opposition in general deems the government's pledge to end armed activities with cynicism and skepticism, accusing the Assad government of attempting to buy time only.

The Damascus-based opposition party, Building Syria State, charged in a statement issued on Tuesday that "the authorities will not commit to a cease-fire."

In the statement titled "more talks and fewer actions," the opposing party said "the authorities only want to buy time... those armed groups have no central leadership that would command them to comply with Annan's plan."

The government's last-minute demand for a written guarantee is generally regarded by opposition groups as an "impossible condition that aims to disrupt the implementation of Annan's mission."

Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said on Tuesday that the government had withdrawn its troops from some rural provinces, while the cease-fire must start simultaneously with the deployment of the international observer mission.

Speaking in Moscow after meeting with his Russian counterpart, Moallem also said Damascus would begin negotiations with the opposition after they accept Annan's plan and expected Annan to provide a guarantee that the opposition would end fighting and not receive external support.

For his side, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Syria to actively implement the Annan plan, saying "the Syrian government should fulfill Annan's plan more actively," and urged the all countries that support the opposition to use all their influence to achieve the cease-fire in the crisis-torn country.

 

Editor:Bai Yang |Source: Xinhua

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