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Middle East
Syria regime says battle to topple it is over
Foreign Ministry says attempt to bring down the government has failed, as US pushes for UN timeline for "next steps".
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2012 17:56

Syria's regime has declared it has defeated those seeking to bring it down while reiterating support for a UN-Arab peace plan, as its troops reportedly shelled opposition fighters in the city of Homs.

Foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi, cited by the official SANA news agency on Saturday, also said Syrian troops would only draw back from urban areas once the security situation is stable.

The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed in the crackdown by forces of President Bashar al-Assad on an Arab Spring-inspired uprising that began a year ago with pro-democracy protests.

"The battle to topple the state is over, and the battle to solidify stability ... and move on towards a renewed Syria has begun," Makdisi said in an interview originally carried on state television.

Troops would only withdraw from residential zones once they were secure, Makdisi said, adding UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan acknowledged there were "illegitimate armed elements within the opposition".

"The presence of the Syrian Arab army in Syrian cities is for defensive purposes [so] as to protect the civilians," he said. "Once peace and security prevail, the army is to pull out."

At a meeting in Riyadh, meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Gulf Arab counterparts urged Annan "to determine a timeline for next steps if the killing continues" despite Syria's acceptance of his six-point plan.

'Crackdown continues'

Meanwhile, at least 19 people were killed in violence across the country on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The observatory said a child was killed on Saturday by rocket fire in the Bayada area of Homs, where troops fired shells at rebels in its Khaldiyeh district at the rate of one a minute.

The monitoring group also reported heavy fighting near Damascus and in the southern province of Deraa, cradle of the uprising, with at least seven people reported killed nationwide.

Annan had appealed for an immediate ceasefire on Friday, even as monitors said at least another 39 people were killed - all but seven of them civilians - as security forces kept up operations to crush the revolt.

Clinton held talks with Gulf Arab leaders aimed at putting pressure on Syria's regime to stop its bloody crackdown.

The meetings in Riyadh came before a "Friends of Syria" forum in Istanbul on Sunday which ministers from dozens of Arab and Western countries are due to attend. China and Russia have declined invitations.

But there are differences over how to help the Syrian people in their bid for democracy.

Saudi Arabia and its neighbour Qatar have called for arming the opposition, which includes the Free Syrian Army which is made mainly up of Syrian military defectors.

Baghdad summit

An Arab League summit in Baghdad this week rejected the option of arming any side, and urged all parties to engage in a "serious national dialogue".

The Iraqi prime minister's spokesman said on Saturday his country may not attend the Istanbul conference as it wants to maintain its ability to mediate.

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In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

"We want to maintain our mediation role, and the role of mediator sometimes requires not participating in this conference or that," Ali Mussawi told the AFP news agency.

The UN is making plans for a Syria ceasefire observer mission if hostilities halt.

Syria has agreed to admit a UN team of experts to examine the conditions for deploying the mission, Makdisi said on Saturday.

A UN official in New York said a minimum of 250 observers would be needed if Damascus halted its offensive on protesters and agreed to the international force.

Annan's 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.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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