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In Syria, ‘Much Skepticism’ as Assad’s Guns Fall Mostly Silent

April 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
As the shelling seemed to soften on the streets of Syria in time for Thursday's cease-fire deadline, Russia and China joined the United States in urging the speedy dispatch of U.N. observers, assuming the truce holds. Margaret Warner updates the crisis with Time Magazine's Rania Abouzeid, reporting from Beirut.
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JEFFREY BROWN: A short time, Margaret Warner got an update from Time magazine correspondent Rania Abouzeid in Beirut.

MARGARET WARNER: Rania Abouzeid, thank you for joining us.

What’s been the reaction on the ground inside Syria from people you have talked to today? Do they say they feel freer to go out?

RANIA ABOUZEID, Time: Well, much skepticism.

I talked to some people in Homs and also some up in the northern Idlib region, and they said that things were much quieter than they have been in previous days, although the people that I spoke to in Homs said that there were still snipers that were active in their area, as well as tanks and troops also on the streets. However, they said that it was much, much quieter than it was.

But, certainly, nobody that I have been talking to expect this cease-fire to hold. You know, they say, just look at previous agreements that the Assad government has made and then sort of broken, if it’s even applied any of the components of those plans, for example, like the Arab League plan back in January.

You know, even the Kofi Annan plan, they say it’s not really a smorgasbord that the Assad government can choose which elements of it, it wants to apply. The cease-fire is only just one element of this. The tanks and the troops are also supposed to be withdrawn from the cities and the towns. Peaceful protests are also supposed to be permitted. And there are other conditions as well.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what about the people who were at the heart of these protests back in the days when peaceful protests did take place? What are they saying today? Do they plan to return to the streets?

RANIA ABOUZEID: Well, certainly, if we look back at the 13-month uprising, there have been protests after Friday prayers every week.

And during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, there were protests every day. So certainly we’re expecting large numbers of people to take to the streets on Friday, just based on what activists are saying. And, you know, this was always the concern that the Assad government had. If we look back at the Arab League monitoring mission in January, for example, we saw many, many more people take to the streets because they felt that perhaps with the presence of these monitors in their midst that the security forces might not be quite as brutal as they have been in the past.

The Syrian National Council, which is the de facto political opposition group, has called on people to take to the streets in Syria to test this cease-fire and to see if Assad will keep his guns as silent as they have been today.

MARGARET WARNER: Has the Assad government given any indication as to whether it will allow those protests to go forward?

RANIA ABOUZEID: Yes, the Interior Ministry has said that protests, peaceful protests are part of a constitutional right of every Syrian. And it said that President Bashar al-Assad had recently signed a decree as part of these reform — this reform package that he has implemented lately, you know, giving people the right to peacefully protest.

However, the Interior Ministry said that protesters must seek permission and that — you know, certainly a lot of the people that I have been talking say that that is not going to happen, they’re not going to seek permission, which raises the question of whether or not these — quote, unquote — “illegal protests” will be considered a pretext by the Assad regime to perhaps you know — for security forces to try and stop them.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what about the armed opposition fighters inside Syria? Have they said anything today either publicly or to you about whether they, too, will honor the cease-fire?

RANIA ABOUZEID: Yes.

No, we have heard from several different elements within the Free Syrian Army that they intend to honor this cease-fire. However, some of the men that I have been speaking to are extremely skeptical. And they’re certainly not going to be laying down their weapons.

There was a report on the Syrian national news agency today that said that about 160 men had handed themselves and their weapons in to the government because, just the day before, the Syrian government said that anybody who hands themselves in who — quote — “doesn’t have blood on their hands” will be released and set free and they can — quote — “return to their normal lives.”

So — but, certainly, none of the men that I have been talking to who have taken up arms against the Syrian regime are prepared to lay them down.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Rania Abouzeid, thank you so much. It will be fascinating to see what happens tomorrow.