Syria mostly quiet after cease-fire deadline passes, but tanks remain


A Syrian man reads the local 'Baath' newspaper in Damascus on April 12, 2012, as a UN-backed ceasefire went into effect. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shot dead a civilian in the central province of Hama, a monitoring group said, hours after a deadline to implement a ceasefire aimed to end 13 months of bloodshed.


Louai Beshara

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Widespread shelling in Syria ceased today following the final deadline for implementation of a cease-fire to end violence in a conflict that has lasted for over a year.

But opposition and activist groups have told the BBC there is a "growing number of incidents reported across the country," and activists on Twitter delivered consistent reports of snipers stationed on rooftops in flashpoint neighborhoods. Unverified reports suggested that gunmen have fired on and killed several civilians, though whether the shooters are Syrian Army forces or "shabiha," civilian militias aligned with the government, remains unclear.

"Government troops, tanks and heavy weapons remain in and around populations centres. Their withdrawal was to have been the first step in the Annan peace process, to be completed last Tuesday," Jim Muir wrote for the BBC from Beirut.

SANA, the Syrian state news service, blamed "armed terrorist groups" for several deadly attacks across the country, in Idlib, Deraa, as well as a roadside bomb in Aleppo that targeted an army bus, killing an officer.

The Syrian Interior Ministry broadcast a message urging Syrians who fled the country to return home, according to LBC International.

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The Associated Press reported that it was "the first brief lull" in weeks of bloodshed. An activist group said "all of Syria's flashpoints in the central provinces of Hama and Homs, the northern regions of Idlib and Aleppo, the capital Damascus and its suburbs, as well as Daraa to the south and Deir el-Zour to the east were quiet." Homs, which has been under heavy artillery bombardment, was silent for the first time in three weeks.

The United Nations estimates that over 9,000 people have been killed in the violence, and tens of thousands of refugees have streamed into neighboring Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. 

However, the Local Coordination Committees said around midday that shelling was heard in the Qarabis neighborhood of Homs. The report was not verified. 

Al Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper, said "cautious optimism" prevailed across Syria.

Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the exiled Syrian National Council in Turkey, called on Syrians still in the country to test the cease-fire by returning to the streets to protest, according to Agence France Presse.

The AP said activists expect protesters to return to the streets in "huge numbers" if the cease-fire holds, and said that even if tanks are withdrawn, shabiha could retaliate.

Later today, the office of the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon tweeted: