Syrian Troops to Stay in Cities 'until Peace', Assad Regime Says

World | March 31, 2012, Saturday // 17:36

Syrian government troops will stay in urban areas until "peace and security prevail," the Syrian government said on Saturday.

"The presence of the Syrian Arab Army in Syrian cities is for defensive purposes [so] as to protect the civilians," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told state media late on Friday, as cited by  Al Jazeera televison.

"Once peace and security prevail, the army is to pull out," he said amidst continuing reports of violence and deaths in Syria where there has been civil unrest against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad for more than a year.

The announcement came after UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan called for troops to be withdrawn as "a gesture of good faith."

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accepted Annan's peace plan earlier this week, but violence has continued.

At least 40 people were reportedly killed on Friday, and the opposition stronghold of Homs came under renewed bombardment.

There were also reports of clashes between security services and rebels in Damascus' Jobar neighborhood on Saturday morning.

The UN says more than 9,000 people have died since pro-democracy protests erupted in Syria a year ago. The Syrian government insists it is combating "armed terrorist gangs" who are seeking to destabilize Syria.

On Friday, Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the former UN chief expected President Assad to implement the peace plan immediately.

The plan "specifically asks the government to withdraw its troops, to cease using heavy weapons in populated centres", he said.

"The very clear implication here is that the government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side and with the mediator."

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Tags: Syria, Kofi Annan, violence, civil unrest, Bashar Al-Assad, arab spring
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