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Assad pulling Syria troops out of cities by Tuesday? (+video)

Kofi Annan seems to think so. But there are strong grounds for doubt.

By Staff writer / April 5, 2012

Syrian youth stand in a building damaged by tank shells in a neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, after a raid by Syrian troops killed several rebels and civilians April 5. Syrian troops launched a fierce assault Thursday, days ahead of a deadline for a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, with activists describing it as one of the most violent attacks around the capital since the year-old uprising began.

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Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, now the UN point-man on the civil war in Syria, says he has full agreement from the regime of Bashar al-Assad that the fighting there will end next week.

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"What we expect on April 10 is that the Syrian government will have completed its withdrawal from populated centers ... and then we begin a 48-hour period during which there will be a complete cessation of all forms of violence by all parties," Mr. Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in Geneva earlier today.

This prediction should be taken with a very large grain of salt.

Mr. Assad is in a fight for regime survival. While large chunks of his country have fallen out of central government control, and the opposition has defied his military for over a year now in towns like Idlib, Homs, and Hama, his security establishment has largely hung together and hasn't suffered the sort of mass defections that undermined Muammar Qaddafi's forces during the uprising in Libya.

The application of force against his opponents is Assad's go-to means of keeping control, just as it was for his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad. With at least 9,000 Syrians dead from the fighting, and scores in detention, where many have been tortured, it's hard to see the calls for his overthrow dying down. And if he really does give up the use of political terror against his enemies, the chorus demanding his demise will probably grow louder still.

There are already strong signs that Annan is not going to get his way on the cease-fire. The daily Al-Watan, linked to Syria's government, quoted an unnamed government official as saying "there is no... deadline" for pulling troops out of cities. Opposition activists said that tanks remain active in Deraa today, despite government claims to the contrary, and said dozens have died in ongoing fighting. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 62 Syrians were killed across the country yesterday.

Syrian opposition figures aren't the only ones who don't share the UN's optimism. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said Assad "is deceiving us" and warned of a push for tougher international action against Syria. The UN is currently trying to negotiate the dispatch of 250 or so unarmed military observers to determine if a cease-fire is achieved. Mr. Juppé said further steps will be considered at the UN Security Council if Syria doesn't allow observers in soon.

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