The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported military action against towns and villages from the southern province of Deraa to the Hama region 320 kilometers (200 miles) to the north.
Shelling was also reported in parts of Homs, Syria’s third largest city, where Assad on Tuesday toured the devastated streets of a rebel bastion overrun by his troops earlier this month after weeks of bombardment.
“Military forces accompanied by dozens of armored vehicles stormed the town of Qalaat al-Madiq and nearby villages [in Hama],” the activist website reported. “This comes after weeks of heavy gun and mortar fire and several failed attempts to invade the town.”
“The regime has been shelling our town for 18 days, they are destroying our ancient fort,” said one activist calling himself Abu Dhafer. “Thousands of people have fled and nearby villagers have gone to homes in safe areas. They are cramming people into their homes, a dozen to a room, men women and children.” “The rebels have left the town, it is surrounded and being shelled and we don’t have enough weapons to fight back.”
UN-sponsored peace plan
Syria has accepted a UN-sponsored peace plan calling for the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from cities ahead of peace talks between Assad and his opponents, special envoy Kofi Annan said on Tuesday.
The United States, Germany and other Western powers greeted the news with scepticism, saying they would wait and see what Assad actually did, rather than take his word for it.
“We will judge Assad’s sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling on him to order his forces to start withdrawing from populated areas. Annan, who represents the United Nations and the Arab League, said getting Assad’s agreement in principle to his six-point peace framework was an important first step but implementing it “is going to be a long difficult task.”
Annan’s plan calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, for humanitarian assistance to be allowed in unimpeded, for the release of prisoners, freedom of movement and access for journalists to go in and out.
Violent clashes between government troops and rebel ground forces began at dawn in Basr al-Harir in southern Deraa after security forces told residents to hand over the rebels or face an attack, the Observatory report said.
When the army tried to storm the town of Rastan in central Homs province in the early morning, three soldiers were killed and at least four rebels wounded. Mortar rounds exploded in the Old City of Homs, according to the activists’ account. Assad’s opponents grouped around the Syrian National Council (SNC) remain skeptical of the Annan plan and Assad’s proclaimed acceptance of its terms and continue to press for him to stand down.
Annan’s 6-point proposal to end conflict in Syria
- Syria commits to work with Annan “in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.”
- Syria commits to stop fighting and immediately stop troop movements and use of heavy weapons in populated areas.
- As these actions are being taken, Syria should work with Annan to end all violence, under UN supervision. Annan will seek similar commitments from the opposition to stop all fighting.
- Syria accepts and implements a daily two hour “humanitarian pause” to deliver aid and evacuate the injured.
- Syria commits to intensify “the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons” and provide a list of all places Blasts and bullets rock towns after Syria accepts peace plan where such people are being held.
- Syria commits to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists “and a nondiscriminatory visa policy for them.”