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Opposition: 127 dead as Syrian forces target civilians

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:52 PM EDT, Sat April 7, 2012
  • Opposition group claims a massacre of 13 people outside a Homs school
  • The areas of highest deaths are 59 in Hama and 28 in Homs, opposition says
  • The Syrian government sent two letters to the U.N., SANA reports
  • The letters accuse Western and Arab nations of arming the opposition, SANA says

(CNN) -- Syrian forces are targeting civilians displaced from their homes by earlier fighting, an opposition group said Saturday, three days before a deadline for government forces to withdraw from cities.

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria said the regime is targeting villages and farms around the eastern city of Rastan, where fighting a month ago forced out more than 80% of the city's residents. They escaped to the nearby area but are now coming under attack, according to the group, which is a network of opposition activists.

The death toll has risen to 127, including eight women and five children, the LCC said Saturday. The breakdown of those deaths are 59 in Hama, 28 in Homs, 14 in the Aleppo suburbs, 24 Idlib, one in Daraa, and one in Douma in the Damascus suburbs, the LCC said.

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Reports of fighting in Rastan itself came from the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said the regime's forces were fighting defectors at the northern entrance to the city.

While reports of the fighting could not be independently confirmed, the Syrian government has said repeatedly that its forces are fighting armed terrorist gangs and foreign fighters bent on destabilizing the country.

Other fighting continued across the country Saturday, the LCC said. The embattled western provinces of Homs and Hama have seen some of the worst fighting between government forces and rebels.

The Syrian government said its forces clashed with "armed terrorist groups" in those provinces, where troops seized weapons including grenades and rocket launchers, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.

Saleem Qabbani, an LCC activist in Homs, described to CNN a massacre outside the wall of a local school that the Syrian army used to launch offensives and detain people.

After troops left the school following clashes with the rebel Free Syria Army, 13 people, including youths, were found dead, with signs of torture, Qabbani said. Some of the bodies were still bleeding when Qabbani came upon them Saturday, he said.

A female activist in Hama spoke to CNN via Skype on Saturday, describing a government attack with tanks near the Hama stadium that left at least one person dead.

The activist, identified only as Nesma, said the attack was continuing more than 14 hours after it began and that the air force flew over the city all night.

SANA reported Saturday that the government sent two identical letters to the president of the U.N. Security Council and to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accusing Arab and Western countries of backing the armed groups.

The letters outlined countless attacks by the armed groups and documented a number of deaths, including the killings of 2,088 Syrian forces and 478 police officers. They urged the United Nations to do more to stop weapons and arms from reaching the fighters.

The Syrian government and the opposition agreed to pull their forces from cities by Tuesday as part of an agreement brokered by Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general who now serves as the U.N. and Arab League special envoy on the Syrian crisis.

But in the letters, Syria complained that "terrorist acts committed by the armed terrorist groups in Syria have increased during the last few days, particularly after reaching an understanding on Kofi Annan's plan," according to SANA's report.

The withdrawal from cities is part of Annan's six-point plan for Syria, which also calls for a cease-fire by both sides and a Syrian-led political process to end the crisis.

The Syrian government has said it will implement the peace plan and has already taken steps to comply. Its ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, acknowledged fighting continues, but he blamed that on opposition groups he said were being armed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, which currently holds the presidency of the U.N. General Assembly.

The government has committed to the Tuesday deadline but is demanding a guarantee from Annan that once its troops pull back, other groups will do the same.

The United Nations estimates that the fighting in Syria, which began a year ago, has killed at least 9,000 people. The LCC puts the toll at more than 11,000.

CNN's Kamal Ghattas contributed to this report.

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