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Violence dims Syria truce hopes, 53 killed

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April 7, 2012, 5:33 p.m. | World — by Reuters

Pro-Syrian government demonstrators hold a rally at Sabe Bahrat Square to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the foundation of the Ruling Baath Arab Socialist Party in Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April 7, 2012. A large picture of President Bashar Assad is seen on the building at left.
© AP

Reuters

BEIRUT, April 7 (Reuters) - Syrian troops pounded opposition areas on Saturday, activists said, killing 53 people in an offensive that has sent thousands of refugees surging intoTurkeybefore next week's U.N.-backed ceasefire aimed at staunching a year of bloodshed. Each side has accused the other of intensifying assaults in the run-up to the truce due to take effect early on Thursday if government forces begin pulling back from towns 48 hours earlier in line with U.N.-Arab LeagueenvoyKofi Annan's peace plan.

The military shelledDeir Baalbadistrict in the restive city ofHoms, killing four people, the grassroots Local Coordination Committees opposition group said. Thirteen men were also found killed in cold blood in the same area, it said.

Amateur activist video showed scenes of carnage said to be the aftermath of the shelling. Mangled limbs and body parts in blankets were being loaded on a pick-up truck. A second video showed 13 men who appeared to have been tied up and executed.

No comment was immediately available from Syrian officials. The videos could not be independently verified. The government has placed tight restrictions on media access inSyria.

TheSyrian Observatoryfor Human Rights said at least 53 people had been killed, including 40 in an army attack on al-Latmana, inHamaprovince, that began on Friday. In an activist video from the town, mourners held aloft the limp corpse of a child. Bodies were laid out in a row on the ground.

A rocket hit a bus travelling fromLebanontoSyriaat Jousa just insideSyria, a Lebanese security source said. Witnesses said six Syrians were killed. Lebanese medics confirmed two dead and nine wounded. It was not clear who had fired the rocket.

Rebels trying to oust PresidentBashar al-Assadattacked army posts north ofAleppobefore dawn, killing an officer and two men, and assaulted a helicopter base, activists said.

Syrian commandos shot dead three rebels in an overnight raid on a "terrorist den",Syria's state newsSANAagency reported.

Country towns north ofAleppohave endured days of clashes and bombardment, prompting 3,000 civilians to flee over the Turkish border on Friday alone - about 10 times the daily number before Assad accepted Annan's plan 10 days ago.



BAATH PARTYANNIVERSARY

The Syrian leader is fighting a popular uprising, which he blames on foreign-backed "terrorists", that has spawned an armed insurgency in response to violent repression of protests.

While many inSyria's Sunni Muslim majority back the revolt, especially in provincial areas, Assad retains support from his own minority Alawite sect and other minorities fearful that his overthrow would lead to civil war or Islamist rule.

InDamascus, thousands of flag-waving Assad supporters came out to mark the founding in 1947 ofSyria's rulingBaath Party.

The bloodletting of the past week or so does not bode well for implementation of Annan's ceasefire plan.

This requires Assad to "begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres" by Tuesday.

Rebel Free Syrian Armycommander Colonel Riad al-Asaad said his men would cease fire, provided "the regime ... withdraws from the cities and returns to its original barracks".

Syriahas said the plan does not apply to armed police, who have played a significant role in battling the uprising in which security forces have killed more than 9,000 people, according to U.N. estimate.Syriasays its opponents have killed more than 2,500 troops and police since the unrest began in March 2011.

Annan's plan does not stipulate a complete army withdrawal to barracks or mention police.

Satellitepictures published by U.S. ambassadorRobert Fordshowed Syrian artillery and tanks still close to communities.

"This is not the reduction in offensiveSyrian governmentsecurity operations that all agree must be the first step for the Annan initiative to succeed," Ford said inWashington.

A statement by U.N. Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moonsaid the April 10 timeline "is not an excuse for continued killing".

"The Syrian authorities remain fully accountable for grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. These must stop at once," Ban said on Friday.
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