Assad calls for end to arming of rebels


BEIRUT – President Bashar al-Assad said yesterday that Syria would spare no effort to ensure the success of international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace mission but warned it would not work without securing an end to foreign funding and arming of rebels opposing him.

Dr 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.

Fighting between troops and rebels killed at least 38 people yesterday, 15 of them soldiers.

The state news agency Sana quoted Dr Assad, in a letter to the leaders of the Bric economic powers, which include his key ally Russia, as saying “countries which support the armed groups with money and weapons must be persuaded to stop this immediately”.

Arab leaders at a summit in Baghdad endorsed the peace plan floated by Mr Annan, the special UN and Arab League envoy on Syria, and – betraying scepticism about Dr Assad’s commitment – called for it to be implemented “immediately and completely”.

The six-point plan envisages a ceasefire, possibly under UN monitoring, a withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centres, humanitarian assistance, release of prisoners and free movement and access for journalists to Syria.

Arab League leaders quietly dropped an earlier demand that Dr Assad give up the presidency.

The Annan plan, endorsed by the UN Security Council, makes no such demand, unlike a previous blueprint for change that was vetoed by Russia and China. – (Reuters)