Assad demands rebels halt attacks
Beirut - Syria's president Bashar Assad has said he will spare no effort to make the UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan a success, but demanded that armed opponents battling his regime commit to halting violence.
In brazen attacks, gunmen kidnapped a high-ranking military pilot outside the capital and assassinated two army colonels in the country's business hub on Thursday, in what appeared to be part of a stepped-up campaign by the battered opposition against the symbols of Assad's power.
The violence underlined the Syrian government's predicament: Acceptance and implementation of the UN plan, which calls for a full cease-fire, risks spelling the end of an autocratic regime which has relied largely on brute force to stay in power over the past four decades.
Assad's condition of an express promise from the opposition to stop attacks could complicate Annan's attempts to bring an end to more than a year of violence that the UN says has killed more than 9 000 people.
The opposition has cautiously welcomed Annan's six-point plan, but it is also deeply sceptical Assad will carry it out, believing he has accepted it just to win time while his forces continue their bloody campaign to crush the uprising. Armed rebels are unlikely to stop fighting unless offensives by security forces halt. It is also difficult for rebel forces to uniformly stop fighting since there is no central command structure.
Last year, Assad agreed to an Arab-brokered peace plan similar to Annan's, pledging to work with observers who traveled to Syria on a mission to end the crackdown. But the regime failed to pull out its tanks from towns and cities, saying the country was under attack from the armed groups, and the bloodshed has escalated sharply since the League halted its observer mission on Jan. 28.
That failure tempered reaction to Assad's promises Thursday.
At an Arab League summit in the Iraqi capital, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby discussed the Syrian crisis and Annan's mission and they agreed "that it was imperative for president Assad to match his commitments with action", the UN spokesperson office said.
Arab leaders at the summit issued a resolution calling on Assad's regime to "immediately implement" Annan's proposals.
The plan calls for Damascus to immediately stop troop movements and use of heavy weapons in populated areas and to commit to a daily two-hour halt in fighting to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations. It also calls for a full cease-fire to be supervised by the UN so that all parties can discuss a political solution.