Saturday, March 31, 2012

Syrian official says regime won't back down first

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian government will not pull troops from cities and towns engulfed by the country's unrest before life returns to normal in these areas, a high-ranking official said, as activists reported fresh violence that claimed the lives of more than two dozen people across the nation Saturday.

The statement by Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi was the first response to an appeal by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to Syrian authorities to stop military activities as "the stronger party" in a "gesture of good faith" to the lightly armed opposition.

It suggests that any implementation of Annan's plan to end the conflict — which Syrian President Bashar Assad has accepted — will be a long and complicated process. Damascus appears to be playing for time by indicating broad agreement with the plan but then quibbling over or ignoring the details.

One of the centerpieces of the plan is the withdrawal of Syrian troops from cities, but Makdessi told state TV late Friday that the military is only in populated areas "in a state of self defense and protecting civilians." Read More