Syrian Ceasefire Is Increasingly Under Threat
Originally published on Wed April 18, 2012 7:50 am
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In Syria, a ceasefire that's part of an U.N.-Arab League peace plan is unraveling, just six days after it got underway. Once again, dozens of people are dying each day, as the Syrian military pounds the cities and towns that have most fiercely resisted the government, and opposition rebels are fighting back.
NPR's Kelly McEvers is monitoring the story from nearby Beirut. She joins us now. Good morning, Kelly.
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Good morning.
NEARY: So what are you hearing from your sources inside Syria about this latest violence?
MCEVERS: Well, sources are telling us that the shelling by Syrian military troops continues pretty much unabated in the last couple of days. Basically, we're seeing levels of violence that we saw before the ceasefire. It's almost as if in certain parts of the country, the ceasefire isn't really in effect anymore.
There's a BBC team in the northern province of Idlib right now, and they're reporting that helicopters, artillery and shells are firing on people in a town called Jabal al-Zawiya. There's lots of violence in other hotspots in Syria, the central cities of Homs and Hama, and in the southern city of Deraa.
We're not exactly certain of the casualty figures. It's anywhere between, say, 20 and 50. But again, these are levels we were seeing before there was any kind of peace plan in place.
NEARY: Well, what exactly were the terms of this U.N.-Arab League peace plan?
MCEVERS: The idea was that six days ago, when this plan was put into place, the Syrian regime was supposed to pull out all its big guns from cities and towns - basically, pull out the tanks, pull out the soldiers and stop all violence. And then two days after that, the rebels were supposed to put down their guns, as well. After that, the two sides were supposed to sit down and start negotiating some kind of agreement. Political prisoners were supposed to be released. Journalists were supposed to be allowed into the country. U.N. observers were supposed to come into the country. And then the idea is that a political transition will take place. Well, because now the first component of this plan isn't really holding, it's really thrown a lot of doubt on the whole process altogether.
NEARY: Well, have Syrian officials given any reason for this resurgence in violence?
MCEVERS: It's important to note that in certain parts of the country, the violence has actually abated to some degree. I mean, I think the Syrian regime would tell you that we have, you know, pulled back. We have stopped firing in certain parts of the country. And what they're basically saying in their state-owned and state-controlled media is that it's not really our fault. It's the terrorists, the armed gangs who broke the ceasefire in the first place. You know, so there's a lot of finger-pointing going on here.
One report said that an Israeli-made rocket actually killed some children in the flashpoint city of Homs. And Syrian state media reported that insurgents attacked a police station in Aleppo. Reports like this are impossible for us to verify because most journalists still can't get into Syria. But the idea here is, again, that the two sides are saying, you know, it's his fault, not ours.
NEARY: What about U.N. monitors? I know there's a very small number of U.N. monitors in Syria right now. Can they move about freely in the country?
MCEVERS: This small team of monitors is there as an advance team. The idea is that they're going there to secure an agreement from the Syrian regime for a much larger team of observers to come in. But even this advanced team is having troubles moving around freely. You saw U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday pressing the Syrian regime, saying they need to be allowed free movement.
And we're also getting some reports that they're having trouble securing an agreement for the rest of the monitors to come in. So there's a lot of doubt right now as to whether or not this monitor mission is going to be successful.
NEARY: Well, what's U.N. going to do now? Is it going to scrap this plan?
MCEVERS: That's the question. I think at this point in the short-term, the U.N. and the Arab League are willing to go forward. I mean, at this moment, analysts agree that this is really the only option, and it has reduced the violence, again, in the short-term. But the big question is: What happens in the long-term? Is this just a time for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to regroup, to gain more power and to come back and fire at its own people yet again? And the other question is: If it doesn't comply with the plan, what's the or else? At this point, the international community doesn't really have a threat. There's not enough unity on the U.N. Security Council to come to agreement on some kind of intervention or other kind of punishment for the Syrian regime.
NEARY: That's NPR's Kelly McEvers, in Beirut. Thanks so much for being with us, Kelly.
MCEVERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.