The United States has said that the Syrian government's pledge to honor a cease-fire agreement by Thursday carries "little credibility," also saying that the burden lay with President Assad's government, not the rebels.
The United States warned Wednesday that the Syrian government's pledge to keep to a cease-fire agreement had "little credibility."
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters in New York that "commitment [to the cease-fire] has little credibility given its track record. The burden remains squarely on the Syrian regime, not the opposition, to meet its obligations in full and visibly under [UN-Arab League envoy Kofi] Annan's plan."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said Wednesday that she was alarmed by "ongoing violence" in Syria as the Thursday cease-fire deadline approached. Addressing the Group of Eight foreign ministers, she expressed concern about the challenges that UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan faces in his dealings with President Bashar al-Assad's government.
A ceasefire with caveats
Meanwhile Syria told the United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan Wednesday that it will stop all fighting by the Thursday morning deadline, but with the caveat that it reserves the right to respond to attacks from "armed rebel groups."
Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement that the Syrian Foreign Ministry had submitted a letter, pledging "to cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) tomorrow, Thursday, 12 April 2012, while reserving the right to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups against civilians, government forces or public and private property."
Speaking at a news conference in Tehran on Wednesday, Annan said the situation in Syria would be "much improved" by Thursday if everyone respected the cease-fire deadline contained in the peace plan he has drawn up.
Despite accepting the plan, Syria also ignored one of its demands: that all government troops be withdrawn from protest hotspots by Tuesday. The government has said it first wants written assurances from rebels that they, too, will lay down their arms.
Annan was in Iran on a trip to garner regional support for his six-point plan.
Speaking to reporters after talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Annan appealed for Iran's backing, saying "any further militarization of the conflict would be disastrous."
He said he and his host had agreed on the need to "find a peaceful solution to the conflict."
Salehi said Iran wanted any changes in Syria to take place under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad, for whose ouster Syrian pro-democracy protesters have been calling.
"Iran supports the people's will in Syria for more freedom, but also believes that any change should solely be done within talks between the people and the current government," Salehi said.
"We oppose any foreign interference in this regard and any calls for power change, and that is our difference with some regional and Western countries," Salehi added.
He also warned of a "power vacuum" in Syria if Assad were toppled from power and welcomed the fact that the peace plan did not call for Assad's removal.
Iran has supported Assad's regime throughout the year-long anti-government protests. It, however, denies Western claims that it has supplied Syria with arms to help Damascus carry out its bloody crackdown on dissent.
Meanwhile, Syrian army troops have reportedly been continuing their assaults on protest hubs on Wednesday.
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), an activist group, said explosions and heavy gunfire were heard in the early morning in the capital, Damascus, and in southern Daraa province.
The LCC also reported that shells and rockets were fired into Khaldiyeh and other parts of the flashpoint city of Homs in central Syria. At least seven civilians were killed in Homs on Tuesday as the deadline for army troops to withdraw from populations centers passed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 52 people, including 28 civilians, were killed across the country on Tuesday alone. The deaths bring the toll since the weekend to at least 337.
The UN estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in violence since the uprising began 13 months ago.
sej/msh (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)