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Annan: 'We must silence the tanks'

By the CNN Wire Staff
April 6, 2012 -- Updated 0113 GMT (0913 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Syrian envoy reaffirms pullout but decries "media terrorism"
  • U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan wants full cease-fire by next Thursday
  • Syria told Annan about some "partial withdrawals"
  • At least 77 people were reported killed Thursday

Are you there? Send us your images or video. Also, read this report in Arabic.

(CNN) -- Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League point man on Syria, urged the Bashar al-Assad regime Thursday to cease violence and carry out his six-point plan for peace.

"All points of the plan are crucial, but one is most urgent: the need for cessation of violence," he said. "Clearly, the violence is still continuing. Alarming levels of casualties and other abuses continue to be reported daily. Military operations in civilian populations have not stopped."

"We must silence the tanks, helicopters, mortars and guns, and stop all other forms of violence, too: sexual abuse, torture, executions, abductions, destruction of homes, forced displacement and other such abuses, including on children," Annan told the U.N. General Assembly by video link from Geneva.

Syria has been engulfed in violence since March 2011, when the government began a crackdown on peaceful protesters, and world powers are trying to stop the bloody government crackdown.

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The United Nations has estimated at least 9,000 people have been killed in anti-government protests. The opposition Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground, has documented more than 11,000 deaths, and at least 77 more were killed across the country Thursday, the group said.

Annan's plan calls for authorities to stop troop movement toward populated centers and end the use of heavy weapons. It urges a cease-fire by the government and the opposition, and a Syrian-led political process to end the crisis.

It calls for the government to ensure "timely provision of humanitarian assistance" and to intensify "the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons." It also calls for freedom of movement for journalists and the right to demonstrate.

Syria has noted it would implement the plan and said Thursday it had taken steps to comply. Its ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, acknowledged that the fighting was still going on -- but he blamed that on opposition groups he said were being armed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, which currently holds the General Assembly presidency.

"The withdrawal of the heavy weaponry will take place by April 10," he said. But he said Damascus needed a clear guarantee from Annan that once government troops pull back, "other parties will do the same and will not fill the vacuum."

"Of course we are in favor of peace, but we want all of these external interferences in our domestic affairs to stop," he said.

Diplomatic sources told CNN in February that a number of Arab nations were supplying arms to the Syrian opposition, but they wouldn't identify which countries. A Sunni Arab tribal leader from Iraq told CNN last week that he and some of his fellow leaders have been smuggling weapons across the border into Syria as well.

Jaafari also accused the General Assembly president, Qatari Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, of "media terrorism" for cutting off a television feed of the General Assembly as he tried to speak following Annan's briefing, and for ignoring a request to observe a moment of silence "for the souls of the victims -- all the victims -- that have fallen this year."

"The purpose of the meeting for him was how to defame the reputation of Syria, not to help stop the violence in Syria and to put an end to the unrest in some hot spots in the country," Jaafari said.

Opponents of the regime and outside experts, however, have said that the government has so far taken few tangible steps to implement the Annan plan, raising questions about its viability.

Annan said the government told him about "partial withdrawals" from three locations -- the Idlib, Zabadani and Daraa regions. This comes after the Syrians said Sunday they planned to withdraw military units from populated regions, an effort to be in effect until Tuesday, Annan said.

"It is clear that more far-reaching action is urgently required," he said.

Annan said that after the government carries out this withdrawal, he hopes to forge a "full cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties" two days later by 6 a.m. next Thursday Damascus time.

"I urge the government and opposition commanders to issue clear instructions so that the message reaches across the country, down to the fighter and soldier at the local level," Annan said.

Other Syrian moves signaled changes on Thursday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it forged an agreement with the government for "an expanded presence."

"This agreement is a sign of trust in the ICRC's independent and neutral humanitarian action," ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger said. "It should enable the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to meet increased humanitarian needs."

The entities agreed on a procedure to trigger a stop in fighting so relief can reach fighting-plagued regions. The ICRC supported the idea, in Annan's plan, that calls for a "daily, two-hour humanitarian pause."

In fact, activists said the army permitted the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to enter the town of Taftanaz for two hours Thursday and collect bodies. The town, in Idlib province, had been heavily shelled for days.

Also, the government and the ICRC worked out a plan for visits to detention centers.

They discussed the right of sick or injured people to get medical care and for combatants "to respect medical personnel, facilities and transports."

Annan said the government told him that 21 visas have been issued to European, Russian, American and Korean journalists since late March. He also said that "plans for release of detainees are being made and will be implemented within a few weeks of the agreement."

A U.N. advance team is in Damascus to plan a cease-fire monitoring team. It includes officers from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations led by Maj. Gen. Robert Mood of Norway. It has started "technical preparations for the potential deployment of observers to monitor a cessation of armed violence and the full implementation of the six-point plan."

Annan said a "nimble United Nations presence" is needed for what he described as a "fluid" environment with "no established front line."

"It would need to be deployed quickly with a broad and flexible mandate. Its freedom of movement through the country and security must be assured. It should engage all relevant parties. It should constantly and rapidly observe, establish and assess facts and conditions on the ground in an objective manner," he said.

Annan urged states "with influence on the parties" to use that clout to help stop violence.

"The unity of the international community behind one mediation effort offers the best chance to end the violence and help Syria steer its own course to a peaceful and democratic future," he said.

"I am acutely aware of the grave situation on the ground. I am impatient for action on commitments made. I hope both government and opposition understand what is at stake and seize this moment. Let us stop the killing and start serious political dialogue, for the well-being of the Syrian people," Annan said.

Along with Annan's remarks Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to violence, and the U.N. Security Council issued a statement calling for the regime to fulfill its commitments and back the six-point plan.

As Annan works to quell the violence, the clashes, shelling and raids have sent scores fleeing into neighboring nations.

The deaths Thursday occurred in Homs, Idlib, Hama, the Damascus suburb town of Douma and the the Aleppo suburbs. In the Homs province town of Rastan, artillery shelling killed a 70-year-old man and three children, ages, 6, 8, and 16.

Abdulrahman Refaii, of Herak in Daraa province, told CNN he saw tanks around the city and smoke rising from the nearby town of Tayiba, more than a mile away.

Several miles away from the city of Idlib, where the Syrian government claimed to have begun the withdrawal of its forces, witnesses said a military helicopter fired rockets Thursday against the town of Taftanaz. A video e-mailed to CNN by opposition activists in the neighboring town of Binnish showed a helicopter that appeared to be firing missiles.

Binnish, Taftanaz and other towns in Idlib province have been the targets of a recent Syrian military offensive that has triggered a fresh wave of refugees fleeing to neighboring Turkey.

At least 2,350 Syrians have arrived in Turkey in the past day, a Turkish government official said, bringing the total number of Syrian citizens in Turkey to more than 22,000.

Imad Dibo, a refugee from the village of Maraa, said he was among three families that escaped together to Turkey from Syria's Idlib province because of attacks by security forces. He said some people traveled by car and others, like his group, crossed into Turkey on foot.

"We coordinated with smugglers, and the Turkish army received us," Dibo said. "The regime is responsible for all of this. They send tanks, armed gangs to kill people."

The opposition LCC said the regime has initiated a new tactic: "systematically burning and bulldozing homes of revolutionaries and their families in order to displace them from their respective areas."

"On Wednesday, during their destruction and killing campaign, the regime's army deliberately set at least 20 houses on fire" in one Idlib province town, the LCC said Thursday. "This morning, in the city of Douma, regime forces barbarically destroyed and set many houses on fire. Yesterday in Zabadani, and depriving the townspeople of their livelihood, regime forces set many farms and orchards on fire."

CNN cannot verify accounts of violence in Syria as the government has severely restricted access to the country by foreign journalists.

CNN's Ivan Watson, Amir Ahmed, Yesim Comert and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

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