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Clashes erupt in Syria as U.N. peacekeepers set to arrive for talks

Published: April 5, 2012 | 7:21 am
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Syrian troops targeted various neighborhoods Thursday as United Nations’ peacekeepers are scheduled to arrive in the nation to discuss deploying observers to monitor a cease-fire.
An advance peacekeeping team heading to Damascus for talks is expected to arrive Thursday, according to a spokesman for the U.N.-Arab League joint envoy Kofi Annan.
As the team heads to the nation, fresh violence erupted nationwide, killing at least five.
Security forces fired at a car in a Damascus neighborhood of Kfar Shams, killing two people, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Three soldiers died when an armed group attacked their car in Aleppo province, where battles between security forces and defectors raged, according to the opposition group.
Security forces also stormed the Damascus suburb of Douma using tanks and armored personnel vehicles amid sounds of heavy gunfire and explosions, it said.
Clashes, shelling and raids have erupted across Syria as top diplomats scramble to find a solution to ending the bloodshed.
Syrian activist groups reported at least 61 deaths Wednesday when government forces pounded provinces of Homs, Idlib, the Damascus countryside and Deir Ezzor.
CNN cannot verify accounts of violence in Syria as the government has severely restricted access to the country by foreign journalists.
The United Nations has estimated at least 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-government protests started in March last year, while opposition activists have come up with higher figures. The opposition Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists on the ground, has documented more than 11,000, deaths.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government has said it will comply with a peace plan by Annan and pull its troops from cities to halt the bloodshed. The regime has promised to pull forces out of cities by Tuesday.
The plan calls for authorities to stop troop movement toward populated centers and end the use of heavy weapons. It also urges a cease-fire by the government and the opposition, and a Syrian-led political process to end the crisis.

But opposition activists scoffed at the government’s promise to withdraw its forces.
Despite the regime’s commitment to the withdrawal, violence has continued, opposition activists say.
The Syrian regime has consistently blamed “armed terrorist groups” for violence in Syria, but most reports from inside the country suggest the government is pummeling neighborhoods in an attempt to wipe out dissidents seeking the ouster of the president.
Countries in the West and the Arab world are supporting the Syrian opposition and want al-Assad to step aside.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says supporting the Syrian opposition does not help the peace process.
“In Syria they want to solve the conflict with the government by egging on the opposition. That’s no way to reach a settlement,” state-run RIA Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying.
He said opposition forces want foreign intervention.
“Even if the Syrian opposition is armed to teeth, it will not be able to beat the government forces,” Lavrov said. “That is why they are relying on the involvement of external forces.”
Russia and China have repeatedly quashed attempts by fellow U.N. Security Council members to pass a resolution condemning the al-Assad regime. Both countries have major trade ties to Syria — including Russian arms sales to the Syrian government — but have denied protecting the regime.
Al-Assad’s family has ruled Syria for more than four decades.

CNN

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