DAMASCUS  - A peace plan for Syria was in jeopardy on Monday as fresh clashes raged after President Bashar al-Assad’s government laid down conditions for it to pull troops and armour out of protest hubs.
Tension also escalated with neighbouring Turkey after shots across the border wounded two Syrians and a Turkish translator near a refugee camp hosting people who escaped from forces loyal to Assad. And a Lebanese television cameraman was shot dead by Syrian troops manning the frontier with the small neighbour which is also hosting thousands of Syrian refugees, his employer said.
Under a peace deal brokered by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, Syria’s armed forces are supposed to withdraw from protest centres on Tuesday, with a complete end to fighting set for 48 hours later. But the truce already appears in jeopardy after Damascus said it would only carry its side of the bargain if rebels first handed over written guarantees to stop fighting, a demanded rejected by rebel army chief Colonel Riyadh al-Asaad.
The 11th-hour demand came as weekend violence claimed almost 180 lives, most of them civilians, a surge in bloodshed that former UN chief Annan described as “unacceptable.”
Making matters worse, fresh fighting killed another 48 people on Monday, including 12 soldiers, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At least 35 civilians were killed in regime forces’ shelling of the village of Latamna, in the central Hama province, according to the Observatory.
“The regime had thought that it would control all areas (of rebels by April 10). As this is not happening, it is procrastinating to gain time,” said the Observatory’s Rami Abdel Rahman.
Tension heightened along the borders as shots fired from Syria wounded two Syrians and a Turkish translator, in the first case of Syrian fire from across the border hurting people on Turkish soil. The incident, which happened on the eve of a visit by Annan to the refugee camps, prompted the Turkish foreign ministry to demand the Syrian mission in Ankara to “immediately halt the shooting,” according to a diplomatic source. Around 25,000 Syrian refugees are currently housed in camps in Turkey’s three provinces bordering Syria , where civilians have been fleeing the deadly crackdown over the past year.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin, meanwhile, urged the Syrian government to honour its truce commitments. Meanwhile, the Saudi government on Monday condemned the Syrian regime’s “dangerous escalation” in attacks across the country and called for support of the new president in neighbouring Yemen.
The cabinet “expressed regret over the dangerous escalation in violence by the Syrian regime across several Syrian cities and villages,” in a statement carried by official news agency SPA.
“The lack of commitment to the (peace) plan of United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan ... shows the extent of stubborness of the Syrian regime and its disrespect for its Arab and international commitments,” it charged.