Syria derides U.N. chief as peace plan in crisis

Ban Ki-Moon

BEIRUT — Syria derided U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon as biased and called his comments “outrageous” Saturday after he blamed the regime for widespread cease-fire violations — the latest sign of trouble for an international peace plan many expect to fail.

In new fighting Saturday, activists said regime forces battled army defectors near President Bashar Assad’s summer palace in a coastal village and shelled a Damascus suburb in pursuit of gunmen. State media said government troops foiled an attempt by armed men in rubber boats to land on Syria’s coast, the first reported attempt by rebels to infiltrate from the sea.

The regime’s verbal attack on the U.N. secretary general raised new concerns that Assad is playing for time to avoid compliance with a plan that could eventually force him out of office.

Under special envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point road map, a cease-fire is to be followed by the deployment of as many as 300 U.N. truce monitors and talks between Assad and the opposition on Syria’s political future. The head of the observer team, Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, is to arrive in Damascus on Sunday to assume command, said spokesman Neeraj Singh.

Annan’s April 12 cease-fire deadline has been widely ignored. The regime continues to attack opposition strongholds, while rebel fighters keep targeting security forces with roadside bombs and shooting ambushes. Defying a major truce provision, the Syrian military failed to withdraw tanks and soldiers from the streets.

Ban and Annan have cited violations by both sides, but generally portrayed the regime as the main aggressor. On Friday, Ban said Syria’s repression of civilians reached an “intolerable stage” and demanded that the regime “live up to its promises to the world.” His comments came just hours after a suicide bombing the regime blamed on anti-government “terrorists” killed 10 people in Damascus.