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Violence rages in Syria despite high-level diplomacy

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:15 PM EDT, Wed April 4, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Scores died Wednesday, activists say
  • One group says more than 11,000 people have died; another says over 12,000
  • Russian diplomat says a fully armed opposition couldn't defeat the government alone
  • The regime has promised to pull forces out of cities by April 10

(CNN) -- Clashes, shelling and raids erupted across Syria on Wednesday, as high-level diplomats worked to foster peace in the restive country.

Syrian activist groups reported government-instigated violence in the provinces of Homs, Idlib, the Damascus countryside and Deir Ezzor. At least 61 people were killed on Wednesday across Syria, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

Military aircraft renewed their shelling on the opposition-held city of Taftanaz, dissidents in the nearby city of Binnish said Wednesday. Both are in Idlib province.

"The residents of Binnish are fleeing," an activist said, but people in Taftanaz "are not able to flee because they are surrounded by the Syrian army."

The LCC count had 10 dead in Idlib, but one activist in Binnish reported at least 20 deaths in Taftanaz.

The United Nations has estimated at least 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the unrest began more than a year ago, while opposition activists have come up with higher figures. The LCC has documented more than 11,000, and another group, the Strategic Communications and Research Center, said more than 12,000 have died.

President Bashar al-Assad's government told U.N.-Arab League joint envoy Kofi Annan on Monday that the government would pull its troops from cities in compliance with Annan's six-point peace plan to halt the bloodshed.

Syria cease-fire proves elusive

The plan calls for authorities to pull their forces from and stop troop movement toward population centers as well as to end the use of heavy weapons. It also urges a ceasefire by the government and the opposition and a Syrian-led political process to end the crisis.

Now tanks are moving like taxis in the streets
Manhal, a Hama resident

A U.N. advance peacekeeping team was headed to Damascus for talks on deploying observers to monitor a ceasefire and was expected to arrive Thursday, Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

But opposition activists scoffed at the government's promise to withdraw its forces.

Since the regime committed to the withdrawal, violence has raged, they say. Along with the deaths on Wednesday, at least 74 people were killed nationwide on Tuesday, the LCC said.

One man in Hama, identified only as Manhal for safety reasons, described the government pronouncements as "lies."

"This is not my thought, this is the truth of my camera (this) morning," he said Wednesday. "Videos speak more than words."

Manhal sent a video showing armored personnel vehicles and trucks pulling into town.

"Now tanks are moving like taxis in the streets," going from neighborhood to neighborhood arresting people, Manhal said.

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 al-Assad's ouster.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported funeral processions for 16 army and law enforcement members slain "by armed terrorist groups while on duty in Aleppo, Idlib, Damascus countryside, Daraa, Homs and Hama."

Jakob Kellenberger, the International Committee of the Red Cross president, visited Syria Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss better access for humanitarians and to detained people. An ICRC delegation visited Daraa.

SANA said an "armed terrorist group on Wednesday" torched a warehouse with food and medicine owned by the Homs branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. There was damage but no casualties.

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 that those entities supporting the Syrian opposition are not helping the peace process, according to Russian media.

"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 reported, quoting Lavrov.

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 both have denied protecting a regime.

Speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, Lavrov said Russia will be hosting opposition delegations.

"It makes sense to convince them that we want to help solve this problem," he said.

CNN cannot verify the authenticity of videos purported to be from Syria nor confirm accounts of violence in Syria, as the government has severely restricted access to the country by foreign journalists.

Al-Assad's family has ruled Syria for more than four decades. Largely peaceful anti-government protests in March 2011 led to a violent crackdown. Some opposition members and defectors from al-Assad's regime have since taken up arms against the government forces.

CNN's Samira Said, Amir Ahmed, Holly Yan, Joe Sterling, Mohammed Jamjoom and Bharati Naik contributed to this report.

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