Syria says it will not keep a deadline to withdraw troops from protest hub cities unless rebels first state in writing that they will put down their arms. The move endangers an internationally brokered cease-fire deal.
In an apparent bid to renege on a cease-fire pledge, Syria said Sunday it will not withdraw its troops from cities without written guarantees from armed rebels that they will also lay down their weapons.
Last week, President Bashar al-Assad agreed to a ceasefire deal brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, calling for government troops to withdraw from protest cities by Tuesday and for a complete end to fighting by Thursday morning.
But in a statement issued on Sunday, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said: "To say that Syria will pull back its forces from towns on April 10 is inaccurate, Kofi Annan having not yet presented written guarantees on the acceptance by armed terrorist groups of a halt to all violence."
He added: "Syria is not going to repeat what happened in the presence of Arab observers when armed forces left towns. Armed terrorist groups reorganized and rearmed to control entire neighborhoods."
The statement, however, also said the government was willing to cooperate and would "continue to inform [Annan] of the steps we are taking to implement the plan, in the hope of obtaining documented guarantees."
Syria's demand comes after UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday condemned increased attacks by Assad's forces on protest cities, indicating he believed the Syrian regime was using the withdrawal deadline as "an excuse" to step up killing.
Monitoring groups say nearly 130 people were killed in violence on Saturday, 86 of them civilians. Reports cannot be verified, as journalists are mostly not allowed into conflict areas.
The UN says at least 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-government protests began 13 months ago.
tj/acb (AFP, AP)