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Annan calls for immediate Syria ceasefire

31, Mar, AFP

International envoy Kofi Annan urged Syria's Bashar al-Assad to immediately implement a ceasefire as fighting raged even after the embattled president said he had accepted the peace plan.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Syria on Friday to protest against what they regard as the inaction of Arab governments in the face of a crackdown that the UN says has cost more than 9,000 lives since March 2011.

Peacebroker Annan's ceasefire appeal came as monitors said shells rained down Friday on Homs, a main rebel bastion which has been the focus of much of Assad's year-long crackdown on anti-regime protests."We expect him to implement this plan immediately," Annan's spokesman said.The United Nations is making plans for a Syria ceasefire observer mission if hostilities are halted, but the Damascus government has not even approved sending officials for talks, UN officials said.

The preliminary planning for the force is part of contacts between UN-Arab League envoy Annan and President Bashar al-Assad's government.

A UN official in New York said a minimum of 250 observers would be needed if the Syrian government halted its offensive on protesters and gave its agreement for the international force.

The peace plan calls for a commitment to stop all armed violence, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, media access to all areas affected by the fighting, an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate, and release of arbitrarily detained people."I can't tell you what the next steps will be if they don't stop now," the Annan spokesman said, adding however that the former UN chief was due to brief the UN Security Council on Monday and "we will take it from there."

Annan is also working to convince the Syrian opposition to "lay down their arms and start talking," he said. State-run news agency SANA said on Thursday that "President Assad... has informed Annan that Syria approves the plan (the envoy) submitted but had made remarks about it." Assad would "spare no effort" for the success of Annan's six-point plan but said the proposal would only work if "terrorist acts" by foreign powers stopped.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 39 people 32 of them civilians were killed in violence on Friday. Protesters took to the streets despite a fierce assault by security forces on the town of Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province in the northwest.

Shelling and gunfire killed five civilians, including a 12-year-old child and a woman, in the city of Homs, while two others were killed in the province of the same name, said the Observatory.

In the heaviest bloodshed elsewhere, seven civilians were killed in clashes in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor between police and demonstrators, while security forces shot dead five people in Daraa province of southern Syria.

Internet-based activist group The Syrian Revolution 2011, one of the main motors of the uprising, had called for people to take to the streets after the main weekly Muslim prayers.

"The Muslims and the Arabs have abandoned us... but God is with us," the group said on its Facebook page.An Arab summit in Baghdad on Thursday, largely ignored by Sunni Arab states, approved a resolution calling for an end to the Syrian regime's crackdown on dissent, for the opposition to unite and for parties to the conflict to launch a "serious national dialogue." The opposition had urged a harsher statement backing hardliners Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have called for Assad to step down and for rebels opposing his regime to be armed.But Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that giving weapons to either side would "lead to a regional and international proxy war in Syria."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in talks with Saudi King Abdullah and other officials in Riyadh Friday, discussed international efforts to send more humanitarian aid into Syria, and support opposition efforts to present a united and inclusive political vision for the future.They also discussed tightening the array of US, European, Canadian, Arab and Turkish sanctions on Syria, a US State Department official said.

In Washington, the Treasury Department announced it was targeting Defence Minister Dawoud Rajiha as well as the army's deputy chief of staff and the head of presidential security, in its latest round of sanctions against Damascus.Clinton is due to attend a meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group in Istanbul on Sunday.Canada on Friday also tightened sanctions on Syria, targeting Assad's wife, mother, sister and sister-in-law, a week after the European Union made a similar move.



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