DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Syrian government on Sunday appeared to be backing out of a cease-fire deal aimed at ending the country’s crisis, saying that it will not withdraw its troops from cities without written guarantees from armed groups that they also will lay down their weapons.
Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad accepted a cease-fire agreement brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan calling for government forces to withdraw from towns and villages by Tuesday, and for the regime and rebels to lay down their arms by 6 a.m. Thursday. The truce is meant to pave the way for negotiations between the government and the opposition over Syria’s political future.
But in a statement released Sunday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said that earlier reports that Damascus would pull its troops from cities and their suburbs by Tuesday were “wrong.”
Makdessi said that Annan has failed so far to submit to the Syrian government “written guarantees regarding the acceptance of armed terrorist groups to halt violence with all its forms and their readiness to lay down weapons.”
He added that Syria will not allow a repeat of what had happened during the Arab League’s observer mission in Syria in January, when the regime pulled back its armed forces from cities and their surroundings, only to see rebels flood the areas vacated by government troops.
“Armed terrorist groups used this to rearm its elements and spread its authority on entire districts,” Makdessi said.
On Thursday, a U.N. presidential statement raised the possibility of “further steps” if Syria doesn’t implement the six-point peace plan outlined by Annan, which Assad agreed to on March 25. The statement called on all parties, including the opposition, to stop armed violence in all forms in 48 hours after the Syrian government fully fulfills the measures.
The U.N. says at least 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the crisis began 13 months ago.