Syrian forces seek to begin their withdrawal


FRESH clashes broke out in Syria yesterday as the Syrian army attempted to withdraw its heavy weaponry from around several cities, while the ‘opposition’ continued with its war, supported by the UK, US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The UN-backed deadline for a withdrawal of government troops and weapons from civilian areas passed with the fighting continuing.

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, in Russia for talks, said Damascus had taken steps to adhere to the plan by withdrawing troops, but blamed ‘armed gangs’ for the continuing violence.

‘We have already withdrawn some military forces from several Syrian provinces,’ said Muallem, following a meeting with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.

Under the peace plan negotiated by the UN and Arab League’s special envoy Kofi Annan, Syrian troops were to have completed their withdrawal from population centres and stopped the use of heavy weaponry by last night, ahead of a full ceasefire coming into place tomorrow.

Speaking after the talks with Lavrov, Muallem said army units had been withdrawn from some areas, a number of detainees released and agreement reached on getting humanitarian aid to those in need.

However, ‘despite all these positive measures we noticed on a daily basis the escalation of opposition by the armed terrorist gangs’.

Syria could only completely withdraw its military forces from civilian areas ‘when these groups stopped killing’, said Muallem.

He said a ceasefire could come into force once a team of international observers had arrived, but accused Turkey of supplying ‘armed terrorist gangs’ with weapons and allowing them to cross its borders.

He demanded a guarantee from UN-Arab League envoy Annan that the armed gangs would also stand down and that a deployment of international monitors would coincide with the ceasefire.

‘I told my Russian colleague of the steps Syria is taking to show its good will for the implementation of the Annan plan,’ Muallem said.

Lavrov said that he was convinced of the Syrian leadership’s commitment to the UN-brokered peace plan. ‘Syrian opposition groups must also accept an immediate ceasefire,’ Lavrov said.

The Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru referred to the deadline as void, and the US White House alleged that there were no signs that the Syrian government was abiding by its withdrawal pledge.