UNITED NATIONS — The United States said Tuesday the U.N. Security Council must respond urgently and seriously if Syria fails to keep its pledge to halt offensive military operations by April 10.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters that Syrian forces have been continuing offensive operations and the United States "is concerned and quite skeptical that the government of Syria will suddenly adhere to its commitments."
President Bashar Assad's government has agreed to international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan and the April 10 deadline to halt the violence and pull troops and heavy weapons out of towns and cities.
Bashar's regime has been using force for the past year to try to put down what began as a peaceful civilian uprising.
A Syrian government official on Tuesday said troops began pulling out from some calm cities and heading back to their bases. But the claim could not immediately be verified, and activists near the capital Damascus denied troops were leaving their area.
Western leaders have been skeptical of Assad's promises, because he hasn't followed through in the past.
"What we have seen since April 1 is not encouraging," Rice said.
If the Syrian government uses the window before April 10 to intensify the violence rather than de-escalate attacks, "it would be most unfortunate, and it would be certainly our view that the Security Council will need to respond to that failure in a very urgent and serious way."
Under Annan's plan, the Syrian government's withdrawal of troops and military equipment would be followed by an overall cease-fire – first by government forces and then by opposition fighters – to pave the way for talks. The plan also calls for an immediate daily two-hour halt to fighting so humanitarian aid can reach suffering civilians.
Rice said "it's the hope – although I wouldn't say the expectation – of members of the council that indeed when we review the situation after April 10, the violence will have ceased on the part of the government and we will be in a realm of considering how the council can reinforce that halt to the violence."
Annan told the council that if Syria meets the deadline, and this can be verified, then the opposition would have 48 hours to wind down its military activities so there would be a complete cessation of hostilities, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said Tuesday.
The United States and France circulated a draft presidential statement to the Security Council on Tuesday supporting Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy. France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said it could be approved Wednesday or Thursday.
Rice said the draft would "underscore the central importance of the Syrian government adhering to its commitment to halt all offensive actions by April 10."
If Syria doesn't halt the violence, she said the United States will consult with other Security Council members on "appropriate next steps."
Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions condemning Assad's crackdown on protesters and have ruled out even mentioning the possibility of future council action against Syria.
But the two countries have strongly supported Annan's mission and the deadline.
If the Syrian regime fails to halt the violence by the target date, Rice expressed hope that the climate in the council would improve and all 15 member would "see the wisdom of delivering not just a strong message but strong actions that might change the calculus of the government in Damascus."
Such actions could include an arms embargo and economic and political sanctions.
Russia has a keen interest in seeing Annan's plan succeed, given Moscow's role as Assad's key ally, and urged Damascus to quickly comply with his proposal.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it had been informed that Damascus had begun fulfilling its obligations, but it gave no details.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|