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DAMASCUS - Despite Damascus' placatory statements and assurances that it would help the UN and Arab League (AL) joint special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan with his mission to end the Syrian crisis, skepticism and doubts have overshadowed the prospects of the mission.
Syria stresses commitment to Annan's mission
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi reasserted Friday that Syria is committed to "positively cooperate" with Annan, but stressed that the government would not pull troops from restive cities and towns before life returns to normal in those areas.
The statement came in response to the appeal made by Annan's spokesman who urged the Syrian government to lay down weapons and implement the peace plan immediately. "The deadline is now," said the spokesman. "We are appealing to the stronger party to make a gesture of good faith."
Interviewed by the Syrian Satellite TV, Makdessi urged Annan to tour the countries which finance, host and encourage the opposition and to put pressure on them to halt their anti-Syria acts, stressing that the presence of Syrian army in the cities is for defensive purposes. "Once peace and security prevail, the Army is to pull out," he said.
In an apparent declaration of victory over the opposition, Makdissi asserted that the battle to bring down the state of Syria had failed and that the battle for stabilization and upgrading the renewed Syria had started.
In his first public comment on the peace plan, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Thursday that his country would spare no effort to make Annan's mission successful. However, he appeared to set preconditions for its implementation as he said Annan should obtain commitments from other parties to stop all terrorist acts, disarm gunmen and end their terrorist acts.
The Syrian government blames the yearlong crisis in Syria on armed groups who are working out a foreign conspiracy.
Annan has garnered support to his plan from almost all world leaders. The plan calls for an end to violence in Syria by all parties, a proposal for a cease-fire initiated by the Syrian government, a daily halt in fighting for the delivery of humanitarian aid and treatment for the wounded, as well as talks between the government and opposition.
Syria has officially approved the plan and its stance has drawn the world's consent without shunning aside the possibility of looking for further options should the Syrian government backtracked from its commitment.
International community distrusts Damascus, braces for futher measures
Yet, it seems that Syria's official statement didn't please the United States and some Arab officials that have upped their anti- Syria rhetoric and warned of the possibility of arming the Syrian opposition. The incessant violence in Syrian cities was also a matter for those officials to search for other options.
Following talks with Saudi officials Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed worries that Syrian government might "conclude an agreement, then refuse to implement it."
She, along with foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, has urged Annan to put a timetable for Syria's future steps.
"We are discussing all options, including aiding the Syrian opposition," Clinton said, adding that she would press during the "Friends of Syria" meeting in Turkey's city of Istanbul to unite the Syrian opposition.
For his part, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Saturday that his country supports the armament of the Syrian opposition "because it can't defend itself but by weapons."
Fractured opposition belies government intentions, calls for arming rebels
Hours ahead of the "Friend of Syria" conference, Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the broad-based opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), contended that Assad's acceptance of Annan's initiative was another "lie and a maneuver" to gain time. "We have no illusions over the possibility of the mission's success because Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian regime have no credibility to engage in a political process," he said.
Another dissident, Haitham Maleh, who has recently defected from the SNC, said that "nothing would work with Assad regime but the logic of force," dismissing Annan's mission as "failure."
Maleh reportedly stressed that neither the Arab League nor Annan's mission would help to curve the bloodletting in Syria, asserting that "the only way to put an end to this tragedy is through arming the Free Syrian Army to break the regime by force."
Moreover, Ghalioun urged "Friends of Syria" conference to back the arming of Syrian rebels. "We have repeatedly called for the arming of the Free Syrian Army. We want the 'Friends of Syria' conference to live up to this demand," he said at a press conference in Istanbul.
More than 70 representatives from Western and Arab countries will huddle in Istanbul Sunday to allegedly hammer out a solution to Syria's crisis. High on the agenda of the Istanbul meeting is the buffer zone proposed by Turkey to enable the rebel Free Syrian Army fighters to launch their attacks against the regular Syrian army freely.
Syrian analysts believe that this proposal would also put Annan 's mission in jeopardy. The first "Friends of Syria" meeting was held in Tunisia in February, but failed to facilitate a settlement of the crisis.
According to analysts, the Syrian opposition groups should deal positively with Annan's peace plan to spare the country a looming civil war and an overall destruction to entire region.
They believe that the plan could create suitable climate for an organized and systematical peaceful transition without undermining Syria's stability.
The United Nations said Tuesday the number of people killed since the unrest began in March last year has exceeded 9,000, while the Syrian government blamed the unrest on armed extremists backed by regional and international powers, saying that more than 2,500 army and security personnel have been killed over the yearlong crisis.