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Syria forces hit rebels, US doubts Assad compliance

SYRIA: Syrian forces pressed a crackdown on rebel bastions Wednesday despite a truce pledge, with the United States voicing doubts that President Bashar al-Assad will comply with a peace plan deadline.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops stormed and shelled several towns or villages, with 52 people killed around the country, including 28 civilians, with most of the casualties in the city and province of Homs.

While the US State Department criticised the “intensification” of violence against opponents of the regime, Russia said the opposition would never defeat Assad's army even if “armed to the teeth.” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, told AFP that “from the Turkish border in the northeast to Daraa in the south, military operations are ongoing.” “Tanks are still shelling or storming towns and villages before going back to their bases,” he added. “That does not mean they are withdrawing.” The assaults were taking place despite Assad's pledge to implement by April 10 a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

Former UN chief Annan said Monday that Assad had agreed to start “immediately” pulling out troops under a six-point peace plan.

However US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington Wednesday that “we've yet to be convinced that they have any intention of complying with the April 10 deadline”.

The Observatory has charged that the army was torching and looting rebel houses across the country in a campaign that could amount to crimes against humanity.

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition bloc, accused the regime of carrying out “a policy of genocide against the Syrian people” and called for immediate pressure from the international community for a pullback of tanks.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, predicted that under-equipped rebel forces would never be able to defeat Syria's powerful military.

“It is clear as day that even if the Syrian opposition is armed to the teeth, it will not be able to defeat the government's army,” the Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying while on a visit to the ex-Soviet nation of Azerbaijan. AFP

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