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Syria demands guarantees from rebels before withdrawing from cities

By Alice Fordham, (Washington Post): Syrian officials called on Sunday for a written statement guaranteeing that armed rebels against the government will lay down their arms, before security forces withdraw from towns, jeopardizing hopes that a U.N.-brokered peace plan could halt violence there.

Jihad Makdissi, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said that reports that Syrian forces would pull back from cities by an April 10 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council-backed plan were “wrong.”The joint U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, thrashed out the six-point peace plan endorsed on April 1 by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. But Makdissi says Annan has “not delivered until now written guarantees regarding the approval of terrorist armed groups to end violence and readiness to lay down its weapons,” according to news wires.

His statement seemed to contradict U.N. officials who said last week that they had been informed that Syrian forces had begun withdrawing from urban areas, beginning in the troubled Idlib province in the north of the country.

Also Sunday, Annan issued a statement in Geneva, saying he was shocked by “a surge in violence and atrocities” that were in violation, he said, of assurances given to him by Syrian officials.

The statements from both sides came after two days of particularly heavy violence in the country, in which activists say that between 100 and 200 people died, and amid Syrian government assertions that terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, were increasingly active in the country. Reports are difficult to verify as Syria restricts journalists’ access.

The strong words cast serious doubt on hopes that the peace plan, backed by China, Russia and Iran as well as the U.N., Syria and the Arab League, could quell violence stemming from a government crackdown on a year-long uprising against Assad’s government.

The Syrian National Council, the most prominent political group opposing the government, backed the plan but a spokesman, Ausama Monajed, said last week that he feared the agreement was a delaying tactic used by the government to continue a crushing of opposition that has been decried by world leaders for taking a brutal toll on civilians.

The opposition, backed by some Arab states including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is focusing more on getting money and arms than on implementing a peace plan, said Fawaz A. Gerges of the London School of Economics, also speaking last week. “Even though they disagree about the post-Assad political order, one thing they agree on is militarizing the uprising,” he said.

Published Date: Sunday, April 8th, 2012 | 02:40 AM

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