Syria Agrees to a Date for Pullback (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By JOE LAURIA at the United Nations and MARIA ABI-HABIB in Beirut 04/03/12)
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Syria´s government accepted a deadline to stop its attacks on the
opposition by next week—Damascus´s highest-stakes acceptance yet of
efforts aimed at ending the country´s conflict and one that drew
guarded optimism from top diplomats after past failures to end the
Syria´s government agreed to begin withdrawing its
forces "immediately" and complete the pullback by April 10, according
to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ms. Rice,
this month´s Security Council president, spoke after the council was
briefed by Kofi Annan, a joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria. Mr.
Annan´s diplomatic team is asking opposition forces to withdraw from
towns and cities 48 hours after the government completes its
pullback, Ms. Rice added.
The deadline appears to make April 10 a new fulcrum in the crisis.
While it isn´t clear whether Mr. Annan has laid out penalties for
noncompliance, any failure by Damascus to follow through by then
would come as the international community is poised, as it hasn´t
before been, to open its conduits for aid and money to the opposition.
On Sunday, participants at an 83-nation meeting in Istanbul pledged
humanitarian aid and salaries to opposition fighters. The flow of
cash to rebel fighters could begin to shift the balance against
President Bashar al-Assad by providing money that fighters could
conceivably use to buy arms from regional black-market operations.
Syria´s crisis, which started more than a year ago with peaceful
demonstrations against President Assad´s regime, has escalated into
an armed conflict that the U.N. says has killed more than 9,000
people. Past efforts to quell the violence have come to naught, as
Damascus´s pledges have dissapated or fallen short with the
opposition, and Russia and China have blocked a U.N. effort to push
Mr. Assad aside.
Syria´s government said last week it would accept Mr. Annan´s six-
point cease-fire plan, which also calls on the government to allow
unhindered humanitarian aid. Unlike an earlier Arab League version,
the Annan plan doesn´t call for Mr. Assad to step aside, which
Damascus has welcomed as a victory against foreign plot to bring down
Until Monday, no deadlines had been made public. Bashar Ja´affri, the
Syrian ambassador to the U.N., said the April 10 deadline was reached
through a "common accord" with the team of Mr. Annan. "We are
committed to implementing the six-point plan," Mr. Ja´affri said. A
Western diplomat said Mr. Annan had sought an April 7 deadline but
settled for the later date.
Ms. Rice expressed skepticism that Mr. Assad´s government would
follow through, a sentiment she said was based on past broken
promises by the regime.
"The proof is in the actions, not in the words," she said. "Past
experience would lead us to be skeptical and to worry that, over the
next several days, that rather than the diminution of the violence we
might yet again see an escalation of the violence. We certainly hope
that is not so."
About 80 people died in fighting across Syria on Monday, according to
the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group. Fatal clashes
and shelling were reported in Homs and Idlib province, according to
the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based opposition
A blast hit central Damascus, injuring at least four people when it
exploded near a police station Monday afternoon, Syrian state
television reported. Another bomb hidden in a small kiosk exploded in
Aleppo, killing one civilian, the Observatory said.
Late Monday, the group added that rebels had overtaken the national
hospital in Homs´s Jouret al-Shayah district, finding nearly 70
refrigerated bodies of activists killed in earlier fighting.
Activists and human-rights groups have accused government forces of
using state-run hospitals to torture and interrogate rebels.
As Syrian forces have routed rebels from several towns and cities
over the past few weeks, international resolve has grown to support
the rebels with both lethal and nonlethal means.
On Sunday in Istanbul, at a meeting nations billing itself as the
Friends of the Syrian People, Turkey joined the United Arab Emirates,
Qatar and Saudi Arabia in openly calling for the rebels to be armed.
Officials at the meeting also said at least three Gulf nations would
contribute to a fund to pay salaries for defected soldiers. That
assistance would amount to $30 million to $40 million a month,
according to a senior Syrian opposition figure.
Asked Monday whether the U.S. was comfortable with its allies funding
an uprising and essentially paying those who fight the Assad regime,
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "We have not
discouraged this initiative, and we are coordinating closely with
Antiregime activists have grown impatient with the lack of momentum
to arm the opposition as the government continues its military
operations in towns, villages and cities across Syria. On Monday,
some rebel fighters said they took heart from the opposition Syrian
National Council´s pledge on Sunday to begin to pay salaries to
defectors, a move that marks the first formal commitment of funds to
The opposition´s outgunned fighters rely mostly on defectors and
weapons they draw from the military, as well some smuggled from
neighboring countries. In recent weeks, they have complained of
running out of ammunition.
"A regular flow of payments will make a very big difference," said
one Syrian activist who has helped to smuggle weapons and supplies
into northern Syria through Turkey.
Other antiregime activists said the money pledged at the Istanbul
conference isn´t enough to make an impact. They add that U.S. and
Gulf states need to send arms caches to the rebels, rather than rely
on the shoddy weapons available in small quantities in the black
"It has become an armed struggle. So we´re asking for military
support, and that means arms. We need rebels to be resupplied with
arms and that doesn´t mean buying an AK-47 for $2,000 from the black
market in Lebanon, because those AKs don´t work well anyway," said
Hamdi Rifai, a New York-based opposition activist and the chairman of
the United Syrian Americans.
Ms. Rice said Security Council members expressed a willingness to
consider the Annan plan for a monitoring mission if violence does, in
fact, cease. "Some members of the Security Council expressed concern
that the government of Syria not use the next days to intensify the
violence and expressed some skepticism about the bona fides of the
government in this regard," Ms Rice told reporters.
It also remained unclear whether the rebels would take advantage of
the 48-hour window following a Syrian government withdrawal to regain
lost territory, jeopardizing the deal.
Ms. Rice quoted Mr. Annan as saying that a U.N. peacekeeping team
will join his staff in Syria this week to prepare for a monitoring
mission that would police a cease-fire. A Western diplomat said last
week that the team would consist of about 250 unarmed U.N. observers,
pulled from neighboring peacekeeping missions. Mr. Annan said a
peacekeeping team joined by some of his staff will travel again to
Syria this week to continue preparations for a potential monitoring
and supervisory mission.
—Nour Malas in Istanbul contributed to this article. (Copyright © Dow
Jones & Company, Inc.) 04/03/12)
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