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Protests in Syria Continue as Truce ‘Partly Observed’

Correspondents* - IPS/Al Jazeera

DOHA, Apr 12 2012 (IPS) - An internationally brokered ceasefire in Syria is only being “partially observed,” the opposition says, as state television reported that a roadside bomb had killed an army officer.

Heavy weapons and government troops remain deployed in cities, the main opposition bloc said on Thursday, hours after the truce deadline at dawn.

“There is no evidence of a significant withdrawal,” the Syrian National Council’s spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani said.

“The ceasefire is … only partially observed … To us it is clear that ceasefire implied withdrawal of all heavy weaponry from cities, populated areas. This has not happened.”

Kodmani also said three people had been killed in the towns of Idlib and Hama since the truce, negotiated by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, was to go into effect at 6am (03:00GMT).

Meanwhile, the government said “terrorists” were trying to sabotage the U.N.-backed peace plan.

State media reported that a roadside bomb in Syria’s second city, Aleppo, killed an army officer.

“An armed terrorist group used an explosive device to target a bus transporting officers and non-commissioned officers to their unit in Aleppo. It killed a lieutenant colonel and wounded 24 other people” at 8am (05:00GMT), the official SANA news agency reported.

Continuing protests

Activists reported anti-government protests at universities in the southern city of Deraa, Aleppo in the north, and the eastern city of Deir el-Zor. A protest march was also held in the northern village of Tamanaa.

China, which has stood by Syria during the 13-month crisis, welcomed the truce, saying it hoped the government continued to “take concrete actions to support and cooperate with Annan’s mediation efforts”.

Western leaders have expressed doubts that the Syrian government will honour the deal and have called on other nations to take additional action against Syria at the U.N. Security Council.

Syria’s official news agency, SANA, reported that the armed forces had called a halt to their mission as of Thursday morning, declaring the military “successful” in combating “criminal acts by armed terrorist groups”.

But the agency, quoting an unnamed defence ministry source, said the military would remain on alert to confront the “terrorists”.

Since protests inspired by uprisings in other Arab countries first broke out in Syria in March 2011, the government has brutally suppressed the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, killing more than 9,000 people according to a U.N. estimate, and spawning armed action.

Humanitarian aid

Syrian rebels, loosely organised across Syria’s provinces, do not obey a set chain of command, and it remains a question whether they will comply with the ceasefire.

Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught, reporting from Hatay in Turkey, said commanders in the opposition Free Syrian Army had declared their intent to abide by the ceasefire.

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Beirut, said Annan “doesn’t expect a total halt of the violence” but wants to ensure at least enough room for humanitarian aid to arrive.

Saif, an activist in hard-hit Homs in the centre of the country, told Al Jazeera that he thought shelling would resume within hours.

“All the shops have been closed for more than two months, nobody is able to go to work, all communications except phone lines are disconnected in most of the areas, schools are closed also … there are many difficulties,” he said.

Abu Rami, another Homs activist, said that while shelling and attacks in the city in the hours before the ceasefire had “claimed dozens of lives,” there had been no shootings or explosions on Thursday.

But soldiers and armoured vehicles were still stationed at checkpoints, he said.

“I think many people will go down to the streets and keep protesting in their demonstrations and calling for their main goal, that this regime must step down,” he said.

Suspicion and cynicism

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a telephone call on Wednesday that “more resolute” U.N. Security Council action was needed on Syria, the White House said.

“The President and Chancellor shared the concern that the Assad government was not complying with the terms of the agreement negotiated by Kofi Annan and continued to engage in unacceptable brutality against its own people,” a White House statement said.

“They agreed that this underscored the need for the U.N. Security Council to come together to take more resolute action.”

Al Jazeera’s Cath Turner, reporting from the U.N. in New York, said the statement by the Syrian government “has been greeted with a great deal of suspicion and cynicism”.

“Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and the current president of the U.N. Security Council (Mark Lyall Grant), spoke about the letter that has been submitted by President Assad, and she was very clear in the fact that she was not taking anything in that letter at its word, because, she said, President Assad did not have a very good track record at keeping his word,” our correspondent said.

*Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.

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