|UN team expected in Syria within 48 hours|
Peacekeeping unit scheduled to arrive for ceasefire monitoring mission that would have 200 to 250 unarmed observers.
Last Modified: 03 Apr 2012 19:42
A team from the United Nations peacekeeping department is expected in Damascus within 48 hours to discuss deployment of observers to monitor a ceasefire in Syria, the spokesman for international mediator Kofi Annan has said.
"A DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] planning mission should be arriving in Damascus within 48 hours," spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.
As part of the six-part peace plan put forward by Annan to halt the fighting, UN peacekeepers are planning for a ceasefire monitoring mission that would have 200 to 250 unarmed observers. The move would require a UN Security Council resolution.
According to a government official who spoke to Associated Press on condition of anonymity, Syrian troops began pulling out Tuesday from some calm cities and headed back to their bases a week ahead of a deadline to implement the international cease-fire plan.
The claim could not immediately be verified and activists near the capital Damascus denied troops were leaving their area.
They said the day regime forces withdraw from streets, Syria will witness massive protests that will overthrow the government.
"Forces began withdrawing to outside calm cities and are returning to their bases, while in tense areas, they are pulling out to the outskirts," the government official said in Damascus without saying when the withdrawal began. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Assad has agreed to start implementing a peace plan by April 10, but Annan told the UN Security Council that there has been no progress yet in halting the bloodshed.
Syria has agreed to start partially implementing Annan's peace plan by April 10 and that there should be a "full cessation of hostilities" within 48 hours, the former UN secretary general told the council.
Syria's ambassador to the UN confirmed on Monday that Damascus has accepted the deadline for partially implementing Annan's peace plan, but wants the same commitment from the opposition.
"The Syrian government is committed but we are expecting Mr Kofi Annan and some parties in the Security Council also to get the same kind of commitments from the [opposition]. A plan wouldn't be successful unless everybody is committed to it," said Bashar Jaafari.
According to the plan, the Syrian government would stop the movement of troops into cities and withdraw heavy weapons from urban areas.
Annan told the council there has been "no progress" so far on reaching a ceasefire or implementing his six-point peace plan, one diplomat said.
Annan also said the Security Council had to start considering the deployment of an observer mission to monitor events in Syria.
Despite Annan's plan, reports have emerged that the Syrian government sent troops backed by tanks into rebellious areas on Monday to search for activists.
The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria over the past year while Syrian rights activists put the death toll at more than 10,000.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused the UN Security Council on Tuesday of indirectly supporting the "oppression" of the Syrian people by failing to adopt a united stance on Syria.
Once a friend of Damascus, Turkey has become a fierce critic of Assad over his year-long crackdown on his opponents and has called for the Syrian leader to step down.
"In not taking a decision, the U.N. Security Council has indirectly supported the oppression. To stand by with your hands
and arms tied while the Syrian people are dying every day is to support the oppression," Erdogan said.
Meanwhile, Western diplomats expressed scepticism about the credibility of the Syrian government, which has repeatedly promised to end attacks while continuing with its crackdown on a year-long uprising that has brought the country to the brink of civil war.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters that several council members had "expressed concern that the government of Syria not use the next days to intensify the violence and expressed some skepticism about the bona fides of the government in this regard".
Arab and Western nations have called for a deadline to be imposed on Assad, but Russia, a major ally of the government in Syria and a permanent member of the Security Council, has rejected the calls.
Annan went to Damascus this month to meet Assad for talks and has since been in contact with government officials to demand an end to the violence.
Russian warships launch drill from Tartus versus US-Israeli-Greek naval exercise
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 3, 2012, 10:09 AM (GMT+02:00)
Not 24 hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that a pre-emptive strike (by the US and/or Israel) would violate international law, Moscow put muscle into his warning: Tuesday, April 3, the Russian guided missile destroyer Smetliviy arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus from its Black Sea base for a naval exercise. The warship’s support group is on the way.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Russian flotilla carried a threefold message for Washington:
1. The Russian-Iranian strategy of propping up the Assad regime which has brought the Syrian ruler close to victory over his foes, will continue: Diplomacy will be propelled by military impetus.
2. Russia is providing the Assad regime with defense systems capable of repelling foreign military intervention.
3. Consigning the Smetliviy warship to Syria illustrates Moscow’s new rapid response policy: Russia is launching a naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean to match the “Noble Dina”air and naval maneuver the US, Israel and Greece are conducting across a broad expanse of sea between Crete and the Israeli bases at Haifa and Ashdod.
Israeli warships and air force jets may therefore find themselves not just operating alongside US naval and aircraft but confronted suddenly by one of the largest destroyers in the Russian fleet (NATO-coded ASW-submarine warfare), whose decks are the launching base for anti-air, anti-ship and anti-submarine missiles.
The Smetliviy’s support group, believed to be a supply vessel and a submarine, passed through the Bosporus Saturday, March 31 on their way to Tartus.
Monday, April 2, DEBKAfile reported: Russia and Iran set to counter US/Israeli strike against Iran. US-led Mediterranean naval drill
Russia, Iran set to counter US/Israeli strike against Iran. US-led naval drill
DEBKAfile Special Report April 2, 2012, 7:22 PM (GMT+02:00)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov issued a strong warning against a military attack on Iran Monday, April 2,, saying that a pre-emptive strike would violate international law. His comments, made during a visit to Armenia, stopped short of threatening (the US and/or Israel) of consequences. But they backed up and were in tune with the explicit threat from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last Thursday of strong Iranian resistance to foreign intervention in Syria and vow to defend Damascus as the “center of resistance against Israel.”
Western military observers link the two statements as representing an evolving Russian-Iranian front. After their shared success in delivering Bashar Assad from the revolt against his regime, the two partners are preparing to fend off a potential strike against Tehran’s nuclear program as well as shore up Iran’s regional interests from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. They are getting set to counter two US-led steps, disclosed here byDEBKAfile:
1. Although the US-backed Friends of Syria 2, which took place Sunday, April 1, in Istanbul, offered the Syrian Free Army no direct assistance or support, Saudi Arabia and Qatar established an international fund to pay rebel fighters a regular wage. They hope to lure more officers and men into defecting from the army units loyal to Assad.
Moscow and Tehran view this step as Arab intervention in the Syrian conflict.
2. The US, Israel and Greece launched a shadowy air-naval exercise in the Mediterranean Thursday, March 29. Codenamed “Noble Dina,” it appears to range across a broad sweep of sea up to Crete and including the waters off Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel Navy bases in Haifa and Ashdod ports.
None of the participants have admitted the maneuver is taking place, nor given out details. Some sources say it will end April 5, although this is not confirmed.
Russia and Iran appear to be treating the two events as interconnected.
Our military sources infer from the unusually broad area covered by the tripartite air and navy exercise - almost the entire eastern Mediterranean - that it is designed to simulate action in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Aden.
Western naval sources in Naples disclose that the American, Israeli and Greek fleets are supported by a British Royal Navy flotilla cruising around the Straits of Gibraltar. They also report that the exercise is led by the USS Enterprise Strike Force. As soon as it is over, this aircraft carrier and strike group will head through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, raising the number of US aircraft carriers facing Iran to three.Those sources also disclose that Israel contributed missile ships, submarines, fighter jets and assault helicopters to the drill.