USA TODAY US Edition
Syrian opposition pledges to test truce
Protests scheduled as fragile cease-fire hangs in balance
BEIRUT — Syria’s opposition called for widespread protests today to test the commitment of President Bashar Assad’s regime to an internationally brokered cease-fire that the U.N. chief described as so fragile it could collapse with a single gunshot.
Regime forces halted heavy shelling and other major attacks in line with the truce that began at dawn Thursday, though there were accusations of scattered violence by both sides.
The government ignored demands to pull troops back to barracks, defying a key aspect of the plan, which aims to calm a year-old uprising that has killed an estimated 9,000 people and pushed the nation toward civil war.
“The onus is on the government of Syria to prove that their words will be matched by their deeds,” United Nations SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki Moon said in Geneva. He said a skeptical world was watching.
“This cease-fire process is very fragile. It may be broken any time,” Ban added, saying “another gunshot” could doom the truce.
The presence of tanks and troops could discourage any large gatherings, but the leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, urged Syrians on Thursday to demonstrate peacefully today.
“Tomorrow, like every Friday, the Syrian people are called to demonstrate even more and put the regime in front of its responsibilities — put the international community in front of its responsibilities,” he said.
A massive protest would be an important test of the cease-fire — whether Assad will allow his forces to hold their fire and risk ushering in a weeks-long sit-in or losing control over territory that government forces recently recovered from rebels.
If the truce holds, it would be the first time the regime has observed an internationally brokered cease-fire since Assad’s regime launched a brutal crackdown 13 months ago on mass protests calling for his ouster. An outbreak of violence at a chaotic rally could give the regime a pretext for ending the truce.
“The test will come when we start to see protests across the length and breadth of the country,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center.