This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
A ceasefire proposed by the United Nations is supposed to take effect in Syria in the coming days. But Syrian government forces continued to attack opposition targets across the country on Friday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than twenty people were killed -- most of them civilians. Opposition activities say tens of thousands of Syrians took part in anti-government protests.
The Syrian government says it has begun withdrawing its troops from major cities. But on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that Syria’s conflict was growing. He said attacks by government forces on civilian areas showed no signs of slowing. He urged President Bashar al-Assad "to show leadership and vision" and keep his promise to end the violence by this Tuesday. The opposition is supposed to do the same within forty-eight hours after that.
Hilal Khashan teaches political science at the American University of Beirut. He thinks President Assad is unlikely to follow the peace plan because that would give the opposition new strength.
HILAL KHASHAN: "This means that Syrians will feel free to demonstrate against the regime with impunity. This is unthinkable. Assad will never allow such developments to occur. Therefore, he will find reasons to defeat the mission of Kofi Annan."
Professor Khashan says he think Mr. Annan’s diplomatic efforts represent the "last chance" that Mr. Assad will receive from the international community. The Syrian leader agreed to the U.N. peace plan on March twenty-fifth.Growing numbers of Syrians fleeing the violence have poured into neighboring Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the U.N. secretary-general on Friday to express concern about the growing number of refugees.
The United Nations says more than nine thousand people have been killed since the uprising against Mr. Assad began thirteen months ago.
Anti-government opposition groups held protests in a number of towns and cities after Friday prayers.
Opposition videos showed hundreds of protesters demonstrating on Friday in the northern city of Aleppo. Videos also showed large protests in several other areas and in Damascus.
Witnesses reported heavy government shelling in the city of Homs Friday. Parts of Homs have come under government shelling for weeks.
Al Arabiya television reported that government troops stormed Douma outside Damascus and made large numbers of arrests. Government forces have temporarily retaken parts of Douma several times, only to lose control later.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed the peace plan. He said Thursday that there was little progress on ending the conflict. Russia and China, both allies of the Syrian government, have increased pressure on Syrian officials to follow the plan.
Syria blames much of the violence on what it calls "terrorists" supported by "Arab and Western countries." It says terrorist acts increased after the government reached an agreement on Mr. Annan’s peace plan.
And that’s IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.
Contributing: Edward Yerenian