Syria ceasefire in doubt after Assad demands written rebel guarantees
Syria has demanded written guarantees insurgents will stop fighting before it pulls back troops under the terms of a UN peace plan – new conditions that have all but demolished hopes of an end to the country’s cycle of violence.
Escalating violence has already raised questions over the ceasefire. Opposition activists said dozens of people were killed and wounded yesterday when president Bashar al-Assad’s loyalists shelled a rebellious area near the border with Turkey.
UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, seeking to end a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people in the past year, said the latest bloodshed violated the guarantees he had been given and urged Damascus to keep its promises.
“The regime will not implement this plan. This plan will fail,” Free Syrian Army (FSA) chief Riad al-Asaad said yesterday, in response to the new demand from Damascus.
The deal Mr Annan brokered calls on Syria to begin the pullback of troops from around towns and cities by Tuesday and for a truce to start 48 hours later.
While emphasising that would happen, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said in a statement yesterday that Syria also wanted the written guarantees.
“Syria has a plan for military pullback already in place and being implemented, but completing and achieving the main goal would definitely require the guarantees from the other side and those supporting them to abide by the terms of calm,” he said.
Syria also sought guarantees that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – outspoken in criticising Mr Assad – would not fund the armed groups.
Mr Annan made no specific reference to the new Syrian demands in a statement from his office in Geneva.
But he expressed shock at the “surge in violence and atrocities. As we get closer to the Tuesday 10 April deadline,” he said, “I remind the Syrian government of the need for full implementation of its commitments and stress that the present escalation of violence is unacceptable.”
FSA leader Mr Asaad said his group had not been asked to deliver written guarantees to end violence.
“We have given our word that if the regime commits to the plan then we will too,” he said. “We are honest.
“Nobody has asked us for anything written.”
Colonel Qassem Saad al-Deen, spokesman for the joint command of the FSA inside Syria, said the rebels would respect the deadline to cease fire.
“We will commit to the deadline even if they [government forces] do not pull back, we will cease fire as we have pledged to the UN,” he said.
“But if they fire, we will pick up arms again and fight them,” he said.
Dozens of people were killed and wounded yesterday when Mr Assad’s tanks shelled an area in the rebellious province of Idlib, near the border with Turkey, opposition activists said.
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