Like many times in the past, the claims of the Syrian government that they ended the fighting in advance of a cease-fire have been proven wrong. The opposition Local Coordinating Committees report that civilians have been targeted in recent days, including ones displaced from their homes. Idlib province has been shelled, with small villages and farms coming under attack. Amateur videos showing fatalities have been released. Rebels claim that 53 have died in attacks just today, as the regime tries to squeeze as much killing into the window before the cease-fire.
Usually, reports like this come with the caveat that they cannot be independently verified. But in this case, the activists are getting some powerful backup from the US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford:
The United States released satellite images on Friday that it said showed Syria has artillery poised to hit residential areas and has moved some forces from one town to another despite calls for a withdrawal.
Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, posted the commercial satellite images on Facebook in what seemed an effort to pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad to pull back forces as called for in a peace plan devised by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan [...]
While Ford said Syrian forces had indeed withdrawn from some areas, he cited media reports that they had fired artillery at residential areas in several towns over the last two days and had carried out “arrest sweeps” in Damascus suburbs.
“This is not the reduction in offensive Syrian government security operations that all agree must be the first step for the Annan initiative to succeed,” Ford, who left Damascus when the U.S. embassy was closed in February, said on Facebook.
Ford is really a hero. The satellite images are devastating. They show that the Assad regime merely shifted around their tanks and heavy artillery rather than pulling them back. It was pretty obvious from the spectacle of refugees streaming over the border into Turkey and reports of the continued presence of troops, checkpoints and snipers that Assad wasn’t honoring the cease-fire in any meaningful way. But this just adds visual evidence. “The regime cannot hide the truth,” Ford said.
The next step is supposed to be a total withdrawal and cease-fire by Thursday, with a UN compliance team entering the country thereafter to verify. Journalists remain restricted from reporting from Syria.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the violence in a statement yesterday, saying that the pullout “was not an excuse for continued killing.” I don’t see how this ends up in any way other than tragic, with the failure of the Kofi Annan-led peace process evident to all.