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      Report: Syrian Troops Begin Pullout from Some Cities

      Syrian government claims troops are withdrawing from cities ahead of ceasefire, but opposition is saying otherwise.
      By Elad Benari
      First Publish: 4/4/2012, 8:07 AM

      Syrian Tanks Near Damascus
      Syrian Tanks Near Damascus
      Reuters

      Syrian troops began pulling out Tuesday from some calm cities and headed back to their bases, government official said, according to The Associated Press.

      The claim could not immediately be verified and activists near the capital Damascus denied troops were leaving their area, saying that the day regime forces withdraw from streets, Syria will witness massive protests that will overthrow the government.

      “Forces began withdrawing to outside calm cities and are returning to their bases, while in tense areas, they are pulling out to the outskirts,” the government official claimed in a conversation with AP. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

      Syrian President Bashar Assad has formally agreed to a ceasefire negotiated by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan from April 10th, but that did not stop his troops from shelling two cities in a bid to weaken opposition forces.

      On Tuesday, tank and sniper fire continued to pound the central city and protest nexus of Homs, and the town Zabadani near Damascus.

      Rebel fighters also kept up their attacks, reportedly killing three soldiers in separate actions in Aleppo and Idlib.

      Earlier in the day, according to AP, opposition activists charged that the regime was racing to crush opponents ahead of the cease-fire deadline by carrying out intense raids, arrests and shelling.

      Western leaders have cautiously accepted the April 10 deadline while pointing out that Assad has broken previous promises and insisting the regime must be judged by its actions.

      On Sunday, a coalition of more than 70 partners, including the United States, pledged to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to Syria's opposition groups.

      The decision came during the conference of the “Friends of Syria” in Istanbul, during which it was debated whether, and if so, how to arm rebel fighters.

      U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other participants at the conference uniformly expressed concern that Annan's plan might backfire, speculating that Assad would try to manipulate it to prolong his hold on power.

      Meanwhile on Tuesday, according to AP, Amnesty International said people are still being arrested across Syria, including 13 students who were beaten at their school in the Damascus suburb of Daraya.

      The organization said it received the names of 232 individuals, including 17 children, who were reported to have been killed since Syria agreed to the plan on March 27.

      “The evidence shows that Assad's supposed agreement to the Annan plan is having no impact on the ground,” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told AP.

      She said the government must released thousands of prisoners, stop arrests and halt violence “Otherwise, the only conclusion we can draw is that Syria has made empty promises once more,” Nossel said.