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Tue March 27, 2012
Syria OKs Annan Plan, But Violence Persists
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The United Nations special envoy for Syria says that country has agreed to a six-point peace plan. Envoy Kofi Annan called it a positive step toward ending the violence that. The U.N. now estimates that the conflict has cost more than 9,000 lives. But still, the violence continued and it has spilled over into northern Lebanon, according to witnesses.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: NPR's Peter Kenyon is following all of those developments from Beirut.
It was a day when the regime appeared to up its effort to portray itself as slowly but surely getting the situation under control. Having sent a message to Kofi Annan accepting the envoy's peace plan, President Bashar al-Assad made what the official Sana'a news agency called a field inspection trip to a heavily-shelled neighborhood in the central city of Homs.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)
KENYON: Syrian state television broadcast images of Assad touring the rain-soaked, ruined neighborhood of Baba Amr and accepting what appeared to be congratulations from residents. State media reported that people were grateful to Assad and the military for clearing what were described as heavily armed terrorists from their neighborhood.
Opposition activists from Homs reached by NPR told a different story. They said the army arrived early and warned everyone to stay inside. And there was a heavy sniper presence as cars and buses arrived with Assad supporters, who would be filmed by the state TV cameras.
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)
KENYON: After Assad left, the activists say, the shelling resumed.
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)
KENYON: The U.N.-backed peace plan that Syria is said to have accepted calls for the military to end its assault, and for a guaranteed two hours of calm each day to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid. That is to be followed by Syrian-led talks to determine the country's political future.
Violence came across the border into northern Lebanon today, although there are conflicting accounts as to whether Syrian troops did too. A resident of the northern Lebanese area of al-Qaa, who gave his name as Yusef, said shells began landing on the Lebanese side of the border early this morning and the local farmers scrambled to evacuate their families. Then, he said, Syrian troops came across the border.
YUSEF: (Through translator) The raid began at 7 A.M. and the troops went back to Syria around two hours later. We don't know what they did here because we left when the shelling started.
KENYON: Lebanese officials denied that any Syrian troops crossed the border. Such a development could cause discomfort for the ruling coalition in Beirut, which is dominated by pro-Syrian members of Hezbollah and their allies.
Although the regular Syrian army has an overwhelming firepower advantage, there is no doubt that the opposition Free Syrian Army is shooting back - sometimes with deadly effect. State media today reported 14 more funerals of soldiers from recent clashes.
Opposition activists mourned their own losses, including two Algerian journalists, who may have been British citizens, killed in a raid not far from the Turkish border. Separately, the activist group Avaaz said that a key link in the supply line between Lebanon and Syria, 35-year-old Jassim Khaled Diab, had been captured by Syrian forces.
In a statement, Avaaz called him instrumental in bringing life-saving aid into Syria, and helping evacuate the wounded and foreign journalists. Avaaz official Wissam Tarif said after saving dozens of lives, Diab now faces, quote, "the worst kind of torture regularly employed by the regime."
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.