Friday has been a day of protest throughout the Syrian uprising and activists reported that at least 30 had died throughout the country today, March 20, in Damascus and in the cities of Hama and Homs. Opposition groups and the Syrian government are also giving conflicting reports about the assassination of government and security officials. The opposition reported that, on Thursday, four military officers had been killed in three separate attacks in Aleppo and Hama; the government said that “armed groups” had killed two army officers who were on their way to work in Aleppo.
The killings, says the New York Times, “seemed to dim even the glimmer of hope that the government might reconcile with the opposition” and show how some members of the opposition have increasingly taken to insurgency tactics. Roadside bomb attacks have also increased, with the Syrian state news agency saying that engineers had taken apart a “’a large number’ of bombs made of gas cans and fire extinguishers” on the roads in Idlib province.
Activists Skeptical About Assad’s Promises to Implement Peace Plan
President Bashar al-Assad had said in a statement on Thursday that until what he called “terrorists” have ceased to attack officials and damage pipelines and other aspects of the country’s infrastructure, he would not carry out a six-point peace plan proposed by Kofi Annan, special envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League. Assad had indicated earlier that he would “spare no effort” to carry out the peace plan. The plan calls for arbitrarily detained prisoners to be released, for daily cease-fires to allow for humanitarian aid and access for journalists.
Activists contend that Assad is simply biding his time as he has throughout the past year, promising reforms but finding reasons to stall implementing them. Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, Walid Banani, a member of the Syrian National Council, points out that, for all the regime has pretended it agreed to the plan there “are more killings, mass murders and no withdrawal of forces from streets.”
One activist quoted by the Guardian says the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is still only lightly armed. Malik al-Abdeh, a London-based supporter of the Syrian National Council, says that members of the FSA are “organised locally and armed with nothing more sophisticated than AK-47 assault rifles, RPGs, and PK machine guns.” Syrian activists also report that a Kalashnikov rifle smuggled in from Lebanon now costs $2,000 vs. $300 before the crisis, suggesting that arms are not readily available.
Diplomatic Efforts to End Conflict in Syria Continue
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Saudi Arabia on Friday to meet with King Abdullah to urge him to support international diplomatic efforts to end the crisis in Syria. Along with Qatar, Saudi Arabia has indicated interest in arming the opposition fighters; Assad has said that he will not proceed with the peace plan until other countries agree not to finance the armed opposition. Indeed, Iranian state media reported on Friday that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, had told the visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Iran “is vehemently opposed to any intervention by foreign forces in Syrian internal affairs.”
Annan will likely visit Tehran soon, a sign that of the influence of Iran — Syria’s most powerful ally — on the situation.
On Sunday, Clinton, British foreign minister William Hague and numerous other western and Arab foreign ministers will be in Istanbul to attend a meeting of the Friends of Syria, to continue planning action against Assad’s regime and discuss Annan’s plan to end a conflict in which at least 9,000 have died.
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