Syria ceasefire near collapse after Damascus makes last minute demands


Syrian soldiers from the government wave Syrian flags during a march in Damacus on April 7, 2012 to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Baath Party and in support of President Bahsar al-Assad (portrait). Tens of thousands of Syrian protesters also took to the streets for anti-government rallies, activists said, as regime forces pounded rebel cities, earning a stern rebuke from UN chief Ban Ki-moon.


Louai Beshara

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A United Nations-Arab League-backed ceasefire plan to end a year of fighting in Syria appears to be close to collapse, after the Syrian government raised new demands just 48 hours before a cessation of hostilities was supposed to begin.

The government agreed last week to a UN-Arab League peace plan that called for a cessation of shelling and the withdrawal of troops from cities, but on Sunday the government said it would not pull back unless rebels provide "written guarantees" to end attacks and "a promise from foreign states not to fund them," the BBC reported. Jihad Makdessi, the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, said Sunday the opposition must agree "in writing" "to halt violence with all its forms and their readiness to lay down weapons," the Associated Press reported.

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The Los Angeles Times reported that violence has spiked since the government agreed to Annan's plan, with "hundreds of people reported killed in the last week." Roughly 70 people were killed Sunday, and over 180 were killed over the weekend, "most of them civilians," the BBC wrote. The United Nations estimates at least 9,000 people have been killed since violence began last year.

Riad al-Assad, commander of the Free Syrian Army, said his rebel army would follow the six-point plan previously agreed to, but would not follow "the government's new unilateral demand," the AP wrote. Another FSA officer quoted by the Los Angeles Times said "we don't accept any demands from the Syrian government as it is not a legitimate authority."

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After opposing diplomatic efforts led by the United States to end violence and force Assad from power, Russia threw its weight behind Annan's six-point plan. Syria's foreign minister is in Russia for talks on the peace plan, but Moscow "hasn't yet made its views known about the spanner that's suddenly been thrown into the works by Syria's demand for prior written guarantees," Jim Muir wrote for the BBC. 

Western governments expressed "skepticism" of Damascus' intentions after it accepted the peace plan, since similar agreements have collapsed over the past year after the government reneged on ceasefires. A January Arab League observer mission was cut short because the government did not follow the peace plan.

Makdessi said "Syria will not allow a repeat of what had happened in January, when Assad pulled back his armed forces from cities and their surroundings, only to see rebels flood the areas vacated by government troops," the AP reported.