DAMASCUS, Syria — By the end of the day Tuesday, activists said the Syrian regime had killed more than 1,000 people in two weeks, making the lead-up to a much-touted, now failed, cease-fire one of the bloodiest of the uprising.
Earlier on Tuesday, the LCC (Local Coordination Committees of Syria), the SRGC (Syrian Revolution General Commission), the RLC (Revolution Leadership Council of Damascus) and others had noted that today was the day peace was due to return.
But as the body count rose to between 30 and 62 people killed by Syrian troops, and a further six soldiers killed by the armed rebels, the afternoon emails from activists saw little need to remind readers that Kofi Annan’s UN and Arab League peace plan had failed.
Since nominally agreeing on March 26 to pull their military and security forces out of urban areas by Tuesday, the government of President Bashar al-Assad has only escalated its assaults, according to witnesses, foreign diplomats and activists inside the country.
On Monday, at least 154 people died, while over the weekend some 243 people were reported killed, according to several activist groups.
The Syrian Revolution Martyr Database, which claims to source its death toll from a range of activist networks, reported that from March 27 through April 8 there were 1,047 people killed in Syria. Combined with the killings of the past two days, the figure rises to some 1,250 people killed since the regime agreed to abide by a cease-fire.
Due to a ban on independent media and international observers working in Syria, confirming accurate death tolls is impossible, but GlobalPost spoke with several long-standing activists who said the past two weeks has been among the deadliest of the uprising.
One leading activist, interviewed by GlobalPost in Damascus after he returned from Daraa, the first city to rise up against the Assad government, said tanks remained deployed in the very heart of the city.
“Nothing changed for us today,” said 25-year-old Khaled. “Tanks are deployed around the Omari Mosque in the old town of Daraa and there are soldiers with machine guns on every major street corner. Today, I crossed 10 checkpoints to reach Damascus.”
In Saqba and Arbeen, satellite towns near the capital, a GlobalPost reporter saw dozens of tanks and armored vehicles deployed around the main squares. He said both towns were only accessible through military checkpoints set up about every 200 meters.
“We protesters don’t pay any attention to the Assad regime’s statements, which are lies,” said Abu Rami, 40, a protest organizer in Saqba. “For the past two days we have been suffering a fresh crackdown, with dozens of activists arrested. The regime cannot implement Annan’s plan, because 10 minutes after they do, residents will come out and protest again.”
Activists also said that Syrian troops continued to shell neighborhoods in the central city of Homs today, killing 26 people.
Residents quoted in media reports said troops also launched offensives on villages in the countryside around the flashpoint city of Hama. For a month last summer, Hama had fallen into the control of the opposition. But it has since been re-taken by Assad forces.
A spokesman for the Activists News Association, a group collating and reporting news from Syria, described numerous ongoing assaults across the country.
“What is happening on the political level is nothing like what is happening on the ground,” he said. “It’s like they’re talking about a totally different country.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Assad government on Tuesday of opening fire on refugees trying to flee across the border into Turkey the day before.
“They are even shooting these fleeing people from behind,” Erdogan said. “They are mercilessly shooting them, regardless of whether they are children or women. Indeed, [Assad] gave his word to Mr. Annan, but despite giving his word he is continuing to kill 60, 70, 80, 100 every day. This is the situation.”
A resident of Maraa, a town in northern Syria, told GlobalPost he witnessed hundreds of soldiers and dozens of tanks today move from a nearby village close to his family home. A day earlier, he said, Assad’s forces had attacked nearby Tal Rifaat, killing dozens of civilians.
“Three helicopters are attacking houses in Maraa and fields, setting them on fire. Thousands of civilians are moving toward Aleppo and some of these families are fleeing for the Turkish borders,” said 30-year-old Mohammed, who GlobalPost contacted by phone on Tuesday.
Speaking in Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed al-Moualem said troops were already pulling back from some cities, a claim dismissed as a “blatant lie” by the French foreign ministry.
“The Syrian foreign minister's statements this morning, affirming an initial implementation of the Annan plan by the Damascus regime, are a fresh expression of this blatant and unacceptable lie,” said Bernard Valero, a spokesman for the French foreign ministry.
“They are indicative of a feeling of impunity against which the international community absolutely must react.”
Hugh Macleod contributed reporting from Cairo, Egypt.