Ahead of ceasefire, Syrian activists say over 100 killed

Updated 4:12 PM ET

(CBS/AP) BEIRUT - The U.S. warned Syria it won't be able to deceive the world about compliance with a cease-fire that is just days away, as regime forces pounded more opposition strongholds Saturday in an apparent rush to crush resistance before troops must withdraw. Activists said more than 100 people were killed, including at least 87 civilians.

Almost half died in a Syrian army raid on the central village of al-Latamneh, activists said. Amateur video from the village showed the body of a baby with bloodied clothes and an apparent bullet wound in the chest. On another video, a barrage of shells is heard hitting a neighborhood of Homs as the restive city's skyline is engulfed in white smoke.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer said from London that Syrian activists said the city of Homs "is once again under attack" and that, since Thursday, "close to 3,000 refugees have crossed Syria's northern border into Turkey, where they're funneled into camps."

U.N. Secretary General blasts Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad last week accepted a cease-fire agreement brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan calling for government forces to withdraw from towns and villages by Tuesday, and for the regime and rebels to lay down their arms by 6 a.m. Thursday. The truce is meant to pave the way for negotiations between the government and the opposition over Syria's political future.

Palmer told CBS News This Morning that "there's a lot of skepticism that [the cease-fire deadline is] going to stick. But we won't know till middle to the end of the week."

The escalating violence of the past few days has fueled accusations that Assad is rushing to stamp out as much of the year-old uprising against him as he can before then. The Syrian government said it has begun to withdraw forces ahead of the cease-fire but activists say no significant pullouts have taken place and troops, checkpoints and snipers remain in almost all major flashpoint towns and cities.

"They are systematically trying to crush the revolt wherever they can and regardless of the human cost," said activist Mohammad Saeed in the Damascus suburb of Douma.

CBS News' Palmer said U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford posted on its Facebook page satellite photographs of the location of the Syrian army.

"Ambassador Ford wrote while the Syrian military does appear to have moved back in some areas, in others, artillery and armored vehicles remain in position where they can attack civilians," Palmer said.

Arrests, sweeps, and the artillery bombardment of opposition strongholds have continued, Ford's statement said.

"This is not the reduction in offensive Syrian government security operations that all agree must be the first step for the Annan initiative to succeed," the late Friday statement said.

"The regime and the Syrian people should know that we are watching. The regime cannot hide the truth," it added.

Ford was forced to leave Syria in February citing security concerns, and the U.S. Embassy there was closed indefinitely.

Western leaders along with the Syrian opposition have cast doubt on Assad's intentions, suggesting he is playing for time and is not serious about the plan, which aims to pave the way for talks between the regime and the opposition on a political solution.

The government has launched offensives in several parts of the country in the past few days in a desperate attempt to crush the rebels.

Saturday's deadliest fighting was reported in al-Latamneh in the central Hama province. Regime troops stormed the village after shelling it, killing at least 40 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

An amateur video posted by activists on the Internet showed al-Latamneh residents crying "Allahu Akbar" as they held up a small girl, apparently dead. The video also shows the bodies of several men covered in white sheets lined up on the ground.

In the nearby province of Homs, activists reported shelling of the city as well as the rebel-held areas of Rastan, Deir Baalabeh and Qusair.

In all, at least 87 civilians and 16 opposition fighters were killed Saturday, the group said, while 13 unidentified bodies were found in the Deir Baalabeh neighborhood of Homs and 10 in Hreitan, in the northern province of Idlib. The Observatory said two dozen Syrian troops were also killed.

The grassroots Local Coordination Committees put the day's death toll on the opposition side at 121, including 59 in the Hama area.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the April 10 timeline "is not an excuse for continued killing." In statements made Friday, he urged the government to "immediately and unconditionally" cease all military actions against the Syrian people.

An offensive in Idlib over the past few days has triggered a massive wave of refugees who crossed the border to Turkey with horrific accounts of mass graves, massacres and burned-out homes.

Activists have reported about 100 dead in the villages of Taftanaz and Killi, both in Idlib, in recent days.

The escalating violence has dimmed hopes that the fighting, which the U.N. says has killed more than 9,000 people, will end anytime soon.

Ambassador Ford urged Assad to allow a U.N. monitoring force into the country and to give it full access to investigate the regime's compliance with the peace plan.

On Friday, a small U.N. advance team headed by a Norwegian major general, Robert Mood, met with Syria's deputy foreign minister to discuss the cease-fire plans. Mood is to set up a U.N. monitoring force with 200 to 250 members if the peace plan succeeds.

The Syrian government restricts access of foreign journalists, and the activists' accounts could not be independently verified.

  • CBSNews

Comments

Follow Us