The Syrian defense ministry said that it will cease military operations against rebel fighters from Thursday after it has completed its mission to combat “armed terrorist groups,” state television reported on Wednesday.
Thursday is also the day set by peace envoy Kofi Annan as a deadline to halt hostilities carried out by the Syrian military against rebel areas across the country.
“After our armed forces completed successful operations in combating the criminal acts of the armed terrorist groups and enforced the state’s rule over its territory, it has been decided to stop these operations from Thursday morning,” the television quoted a ministry official it did not identify as saying.
Syrian caveat in ceasefire compliance
Annan has also said that the Syrian government has given him a written pledge that it will halt all fighting by Thursday deadline, but with a caveat.
Syria told Annan that it will halt all fighting by the Thursday morning deadline but reserves the right to respond to any attack by “armed terrorist groups,” the peace envoy’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said on Wednesday.
In a letter the Syrian Foreign Ministry said Damascus agreed “to cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) tomorrow, Thursday, 12 April 2012, while reserving the right to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups against civilians, government forces or public and private property,’” Fawzi said in a statement.
Annan, special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, said he would continue to work with the Syrian government and opposition to ensure complete implementation of his six-point peace plan.
Meanwhile, Russia, one of Syria’s strongest allies, has said that the success of a Syrian army ceasefire depends on the opposition’s ability to honor the truce.
“Now it’s up to the armed opposition,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Twitter. “Those are the conditions of the Annan plan.”
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Wednesday that even if Syria keeps to a promised ceasefire it will not be enough to comply with the peace plan of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Syria’s promise to Annan “is not and cannot in our judgment be construed as compliance” with the peace plan, Rice told reporters. She added that Syria’s commitments “have little credibility” because of past broken promises.
“Let’s be clear what’s going on. Fighting is still raging reflecting intensifying violence that Syrian government pursued since April 1 when it committed to seize all hostile action by yesterday, Its commitments therefore have little credibility, given that track record.
Annan’s planned briefing to the 15-nation U.N. Security Council on Thursday will be “key” to future steps on Syria, diplomats from several countries said on Wednesday.
The envoy is to speak to the council by videolink from Geneva at 10:00 a.m. (1400 GMT), diplomats said.
But on the eve of a deadline for the full implementation of a ceasefire in Syria, the opposition Syrian National Council said “there is no sign on the ground of compliance by the regime.”
On Wednesday, the Syrian army moved tanks into the center of the city of Hama on Wednesday and also began shelling the town of Rastan, activists in Hama and Rastan said.
“At least 20 tanks are moving into the neighborhoods of Dabagha and Mugayly in the centre of Hama city,” an activist in Hama told Reuters.
From Rastan, on the highway between Homs and Hama, an activist said: “They have started heavily shelling Rastan now, like 20 minutes ago. They’re using artillery.”
The reports came less than an hour after Syrian state television quoted the Defense Ministry as saying army operations would cease on Thursday morning.