Syria told U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan it had begun pulling troops out of several cities on Thursday in line with a peace plan accepted by President Bashar al-Assad, but his foes said the army was still firing in those towns and elsewhere.
Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said Syrian authorities “told us that they have begun withdrawing troops from certain areas”, namely the cities of Deraa, Idlib and Zabadani. Speaking in Geneva, he said this was being verified, but did not say how.
“They are complete liars, there is no army withdrawal, they are still in the middle of the city. They fired on the city this morning, like they do every day,” a man calling himself Abu Mustafa said by telephone from Zabadani near the Lebanon border.
However, he did acknowledge a modest pullback. “The army withdrew 15 tanks yesterday, but the rest are all around the checkpoints as usual,” Abu Mustafa said.
Video filmed by activists in the Hraytan district just outside the city of Aleppo showed a column of five tanks and armored personnel carriers firing heavy machineguns as they advanced through a village.
A diplomatic face-off intensified between Syria’s ally Russia and Western powers who want Assad to go, with France accusing the 46-year-old Syrian leader of cheating on his promises, while Moscow told opposition supporters abroad not to set ultimatums.
But at the U.N. Security Council, both sides agreed to a statement calling upon Syria to comply with Annan’s April 10 deadline to halt fighting and withdraw.