Assad: Aid to rebels must stop for Annan's Syria peace plan to succeed
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is under international pressure to call his troops and tanks back to their bases, a year into a popular revolt against his iron rule. But he warned the success of international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan would not work without securing an end to foreign aid and arming of rebels opposing him.
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"In return for the formal commitment to the success of Annan's mission it is necessary to obtain commitments from the other parties to halt the terrorist acts by the armed groups and to withdraw the weapons of these groups and call on them to stop their terrorist acts ..." Assad's letter said.Skip to next paragraph
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In an apparent reference to Turkey, a former ally that now hosts the rebel Free Syrian Army, he singled out "neighbouring countries that harbour these groups and facilitate their terrorist operations."
Assad said a national dialogue would start soon, including "all groups which work for the security and stability" of Syria.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon kept up pressure on Assad, saying he must turn his stated acceptance of the peace plan into action, to shift his country off a "dangerous trajectory" with risks for the entire region.
Syria sits at a crossroads of Middle East conflict bordering Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Iraq and Lebanon. Its 23-million population comprises a mix of faiths, sects and ethnic groups whose tensions resonate in neighbouring states.
"It is essential that President Assad put those commitments into immediate effect. The world is waiting for commitments to be translated into action. The key here is implementation, there is no time to waste," Ban told the Arab League summit.
Oppositions meets backers
In Istanbul, Syrian opposition representatives met to try to settle deep internal disputes before the arrival of Western foreign ministers for a "Friends of Syria" conference on Sunday to map out where the year-old uprising is heading.
The chances of Western powers deciding to arm the insurgents at this point appeared to be very remote.
Reports from the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the violence, said at least 23 people and 15 government soldiers were killed nationwide on Thursday - in army raids on villages, in a rebel ambush and in clashes.
SANA said two colonels were assassinated in a morning attack in Aleppo, Syria's second city, while on their way to work. It said gunmen kidnapped Air Force General Mohammad Amr al Darbas in Damascus province.
The United Nations says Assad's forces have killed 9,000 people. Damascus blames foreign-backed "terrorists" for the violence and says 3,000 soldiers and police have been killed.
Western powers have expressed doubt about Assad's stated willingness to implement the peace plan. Russia has urged Western-backed opposition groups to match Damascus and endorse the proposals of Annan, a former U.N. secretary general.
Syria's big-power backers, Russia and China, have turned up the heat on Assad by endorsing the Annan plan, with the unspoken implication that if he fails to act on it, they may be prepared to back action by the U.N. Security Council.
Sunni Muslim powers Saudi Arabia and Qatar have suggested arming Syria's mainly Sunni opposition. But Arab states outside the Gulf, such as Algeria and Shi'ite Muslim-led Iraq, urge more caution, fearing an all-out sectarian war.
"In our experience in Iraq, we see that arming both sides will result in proxy wars regionally and internationally. This option will provide the grounds for foreign military intervention in Syria," Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told the Arab leaders.
IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria