Syria threatens pullout from ceasefire deal unless given ‘written guarantees’

The Syrian government may not withdraw its army units from cities on Tuesday, if it does not receive a written pledge signed by opposition groups to observe the ceasefire. Free Syrian Army refuses the demand.

The withdrawal is part of a deal brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

“To say that Syria will pull back its forces from towns on April 10 is inaccurate, Kofi Annan having not yet presented written guarantees on the acceptance by armed terrorist groups of a halt to all violence,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said Sunday.

He cited the negative experience of the Arab League’s observer mission in January, during which the Syrian army withdrew its forces and the armed opposition seized their chance to regroup and take over unguarded cities and towns.

Meanwhile, the Free Syrian Army has rejected the government’s request for guarantees on the ceasefire and demanded that government withdraw its forces back to military bases and remove checkpoints from streets.

The FSA does not recognize the regime “and for that reason we will not give guarantees,” the commander of the FSA, Riad al-Asaad, told the Associated Press.

Also on Sunday there were controversial reports saying that one of the representatives of the Syrian opposition, Kassem Saad al Dine, has stated that the Syrian Free Army is ready to cease fire on April 10 even though government troops will remain in populated areas.

He added, however, that in the event of further conflict, opposition forces would retain their weapons and continue their resistance.

Syria has learnt a “very hard lesson from the Arab League observer saga” and does not want the same thing to happen again, a former Syrian ambassador to Turkey, Dr. Nidal Kabalan, told RT. 

“[Rebels] fostered in Syrian cities and towns, and it has cost extra hundreds of innocent lives of civilians and army soldiers to get rid of some of those armed gangs,” Kabalan said.

This comes days after an exchange between the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Damascus over continuing operations of the Syrian army. The head of the United Nations said the Syrian government should curb violence ahead of the negotiated deadline. Damascus responded by accusing the opposition of ramping up attacks after the ceasefire deal was announced.

At least two large militant bases have been found and secured on Saturday, Syrian authorities reported. One was located in the city of Douma, just 12 kilometers north of Damascus, and the other in Yabrud, 80 kilometers north of the capital. Government news agency Sana said loyalist troops discovered large caches of weapons and arrested a number of people suspected of kidnappings and murders. Smaller scale operations are taking place in other parts of the country.

Also on Saturday, armed rebels attacked a government-controlled checkpoint in the town of Jusiyeh near the border with Lebanon. A bus carrying Lebanese nationals was fired upon in the shootout, with dozens of passengers wounded and at least one killed. The passengers are reportedly pilgrims, who were traveling from Lebanon to holy sites in Iraq.

Opposition sources say the army is engaged in large-scale punitive action in the cities supporting the opposition. They state that more than 140 people were killed on Friday alone.

A ceasefire deal was brokered by Annan and agreed to by the Syrian government last week. It provides for a pullout of troops from Syrian cities by Tuesday and a complete stop of all hostilities by Thursday. A UN workgroup is currently in Syria preparing for a delegation of observers, which is meant to ensure that the ceasefire is observed by all parties.

Syria has seen anti-government protests since mid-March 2011, which escalated in a bloody armed conflict. Opposition forces are supported by several Persian Gulf monarchies and many Western countries, which act directly as well as through a group called Friends of Syria.

Russia criticized the group’s resent activities, saying they jeopardize the peace effort of the UN by encouraging the opposition to continue their fight against the government and providing them with financial support.

Damascus insists it is fighting against foreign-armed and paid terrorists and domestic bandits, who hijacked public dissent to pursue their own goals.