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Rights group: 'Annan plan has been ineffective'

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 4:34 PM EDT, Thu May 3, 2012
  • State Department says Syrian regime has done almost nothing on Annan plan
  • "We are waiting for Mr. Annan to take tangible steps," Syrian official says
  • The report comes amid an international outcry over a cease-fire violation
  • U.N. sends 24 observers into the nation, says it plans to send more

(CNN) -- A six-point peace plan for Syria negotiated by U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan is not being upheld, an international rights group said Wednesday.

"Having spoken to a range of residents and activists across Syria, Avaaz is able to assert with confidence that the Annan plan has been ineffective, with residents continuing to flee the violence being committed by both sides," the report concluded. Avaaz is the name of the rights group.

Annan's peace plan calls for establishing a cease-fire between the government and the opposition, allowing humanitarian groups access to the population, releasing detainees and starting a political dialogue. It also calls for government forces to withdraw from city centers.

In Homs, "Armed opposition groups remain inside the city while the regime's forces retain a formidable presence," Avaaz said.

Also in Homs, the plan's call for a cease-fire is not being observed, the group said.

"Snipers are still stationed across the city's rooftops, shooting at anything within range," the report said, citing residents. "One man was shot dead today in Khalidiya." It also reported that Abdelbasset Saroot, the Olympic goalkeeper for Syria's national soccer team, was also injured by sniper fire.

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The report said government forces were continuing to clash with Free Syrian Army opposition forces. An activist blamed the army for "shooting at anything" in its efforts to enter cities, and state media was blaming "terrorists" for targeting government forces.

CNN cannot independently verify reports of violence and deaths within Syria because the government has restricted access by most of the international media.

The plan's call for the release of political prisoners "has not even seen the light of day," the report said, with activists in Homs saying "no political prisoners have been released."

Humanitarian aid is not getting into the city, and demonstrators must leave Homs to avoid being shot, it said.

Though Syrian authorities say they have permitted 400 journalists to enter Syria, "these journalists enjoy little to no freedom of movement, with their movements calculated in advance by the Syrian security forces under the pretext of protecting them," the report said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner expressed no surprise. "So far, the Syrian regime -- Assad regime -- has taken, really, almost no steps toward fulfilling the core commitments of the Annan proposal," he said.

Though the United States seeks an end to violence by both sides, "the vast proportion of violence has been the Syrian government inflicting it on its own citizens," he said.

But Syria's Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud insisted Wednesday that his government is committed to the Annan plan.

"At the same time, we are waiting for Mr. Annan to take tangible steps towards the armed terrorist groups and take commitments from the states which support and sponsor them to halt violence in Syria," he told reporters Wednesday in Italy, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

The Avaaz report came as a Human Rights Watch accused government forces of having raided opposition strongholds and detained and killed residents in attacks in Idlib that amounted to war crimes as Annan was negotiating the plan in late March and early April.

Government forces killed at least 95 people during the two-week offensive in Idlib shortly before the cease-fire, which was to have gone into effect on April 12, Human Rights Watch said.

"While diplomats argued over details of Annan's peace plan, Syrian tanks and helicopters attacked one town in Idlib after another," said Anna Neistat, associate director for program and emergencies at Human Rights Watch.

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"Everywhere we went, we saw burnt and destroyed houses, shops and cars, and heard from people whose relatives were killed. It was as if the Syrian government forces used every minute before the cease-fire to cause harm."

In a 38-page report, the rights group documents reports of executions, killings, destruction of property, and arbitrary detention and torture.

About two-thirds of detainees remain in detention despite government promises to release political detainees, the group said.

The report is based on a field investigation in the towns of Taftanaz, Saraqeb, Sarmeen, Kelly, and Hazano in Idlib governorate.

"In each attack, government security forces used numerous tanks and helicopters, and then moved into the towns and stayed from one to three days before proceeding to the next town," Human Rights Watch said.

Graffiti left in affected towns indicated it was a military operation, the group said.

"These cases indicate that government forces failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants and to take necessary precautionary measures to protect civilians," the rights group said.

The report comes amid an international outcry over a cease-fire violation by the government and opposition forces.

"All the parties need to take further steps to ensure a cessation of violence in all its forms," said Herve Ladsous, the U.N. under-secretary-general for peacekeeping, on Tuesday. "The people of Syria have suffered too much."

But the presence of the tiny but growing U.N. observer team is having a "dampening effect" on the violence, Ladsous said.

Twenty-four unarmed military observers are in the country, and the number will rise to 300 by the end of the month, he said Monday. The observers are in Homs, Hama, Daraa, Idlib and Damascus.

Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations to ensure its monitoring mission included a human rights staff to interview victims of abuses and protect them from retaliation.

"The peace plan efforts will be seriously undermined if abuses continue behind the observers' backs," Neistat said.

Meanwhile, violence continued.

At least 30 people were killed Wednesday, including defecting soldiers and a woman, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported.

Ten of those deaths occurred in the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo, said Mohammad Said Hareitan, a 25-year-old English student at Aleppo University. It was there that four students were killed and 50 wounded when police and soldiers fired Thursday morning on an anti-government demonstration, he said.

Gunfire resumed at the hospital where many of the wounded were taken, with more casualties resulting, he continued in a telephone interview with CNN.

In the north of the city, another six people were killed, he said.

A day earlier, regime forces killed at least 48 people, the network of opposition activists said.

Syria's protests started peacefully in March last year, but a government crackdown spawned violence that has left thousands dead and prompted some military defectors to take up arms against the regime forces.

The United Nations estimates that at least 9,000 people have died in the conflict while opposition groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.

President Bashar al-Assad's family has ruled Syria for 42 years.

CNN's Ahmed Amir contributed to this report.

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