Dozens of people have reportedly been killed in the flashpoint city of Homs, as Syrian security forces bombarded residential areas with tanks. This comes a day after the government approved an Arab League plan to completely halt its violent crackdown.
The reported deaths occurred in the Bab Amro district of Homs on Thursday, the Local Co-ordination Committees of Syria, an activist group monitoring the country’s uprising, said.
On Wednesday, Damascus had agreed to several measures, including the removal of a military presence from cities and residential areas,
The agreement was announced at an emergency meeting in Cairo, where the regional body gathered to discuss plans to ease the violence and end the unrest in Syria.
Syria also agreed to release all political prisoners and allow the Arab League and foreign media to monitor and report on the situation.
The peace deal “emphasised the need for the immediate, full and exact implementation of the articles in the plan”.
Members of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an opposition group, have voiced serious scepticism over Syria’s implementation of the deal.
“We informed the (Arab League’s) secretary-general of our concerns about the regime’s lack of credibility to carry out the proposal, notably the city of Homs was attacked yesterday and today,” said Samir Nashar, who headed the opposition’s talks with the Arab League.
Momen Kwafatiya, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition in Cairo, said Syria’s approval of the Arab League proposal is a maneuver to avoid having its membership suspended or frozen in the Arab body, something that Gulf countries have quietly been pushing for.
“The (Arab League) decision did not meet the aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said.
Najib al-Ghadban, a member of the SNC, said implementation of the initiative would mean the end of the government and Assad was not likely to let that happen.
“What happened today is an attempt to buy more time,” Ghadban said on Wednesday.
“This regime is notorious for manoeuvering and for giving promises and not implementing any of them.”
Louay Safi, another member of the opposition group, said the Syrian government’s move could not be trusted since it had a long track record of playing political “games”.
“To accept the peace agreement, the Syrian government must acknowledge that there is a problem, that there is a popular revolt and that there is a demand to take note of the demands of the people. But it hasn’t done so,” he told Al Jazeera.
“If the regime pulled out its forces from the streets, released all of the around 40,000 prisoners, and showed real signs that it is going to change course, then that could lead to different thinking.”
Soon after the Syria-Arab League deal was announced, the US administration repeated its call for Assad to step down.
“Our position remains that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said.
“We support all international efforts that are aimed toward convincing the regime to stop attacking its own people.”
‘Action, not words’
Victoria Nuland, the US state department spokeswoman, said that the US administration was waiting to see the details of the Arab League agreement with Syria, but warned that Assad’s government had a long track record of broken pledges.
“We’re not going to judge them by their words. We’re going to judge them by their actions,” she said in Washington.
“There is a risk here that they are trying to string out diplomacy, that they are trying to offer their own people half steps or quarter measures rather than taking the real steps.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, demanded an immediate end to what he called the Syrian government’s crackdown on civilian protesters.
“Killing civilians must stop immediately in Syria,” he said in the Libyan capital Tripoli. “People have suffered too much for too long and it’s an unacceptable situation.
Wednesday’s statements came as Syrian pro-democracy activists reported the deaths of at least 21 people in the country. This included 13 factory workers killed by security forces in a village northwest of Homs.
The killings followed online claims that nine members of Assad’s Alawite sect had been killed in Homs province on Tuesday. It is suspected that Wednesday’s attack on the villagers was a revenge attack for that incident.