Free Syrian Army leader urges Annan to declare ceasefire plan failed

The Free Syrian Army singled out in particular a May 25-26 massacre near the central town of Houla in which more than 100 people died. (Reuters)

The commander of Syria’s main armed rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, urged international envoy Kofi Annan on Thursday to formally announce that his seven-week-old ceasefire plan had failed, allowing rebels to resume attacks on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Riad al-Asaad also dismissed a 48-hour deadline declared on Wednesday by senior Free Syrian Army officer for Assad to comply with the plan.

“There is no deadline, but we want Kofi Annan to issue a declaration announcing the failure of this plan so that we would be free to carry out any military operation against the regime,” Asaad told a pan-Arab satellite channel, adding that the rebel forces had so far honored their commitments to the plan.

Syrian state television said on Thursday 500 prisoners who had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the uprising had been freed, two days after Annan urged Assad to take bold steps and immediate steps to rescue the plan.

Part of his ‘Syria talks’ tour in the region, Kofi Annan met Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman on Thursday to discuss the regional impact of the Syrian crisis, his office said. Lebanese sources said he would meet Lebanon’s president in Beirut later in the day.

“Annan discussed with the king efforts to find a solution to the Syrian crisis in line with his six-point plan, as well as the outcome of his visit to Syria,” the statement said.

“Jordan is ready to provide all possible support for Annan’s mission,” it quoted the king as saying.

An official said Annan was expected to leave for Lebanon later Thursday.

From his side, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria Thursday to honor its commitment to the peace plan proposed by international mediator Kofi Annan after the massacre in Houla.

“I demand that the government of Syria act on its commitment to the Annan peace plan,” Ban told an Istanbul forum of the U.N.-led Alliance of Civilizations initiative.

Earlier, reports suggested that the Free Syrian Army has given the Damascus regime until noon (0900 GMT) Friday to comply with Annan’s peace plan to end violence in Syria, warning they themselves will quit the truce unless the ultimatum is met.

“If the Syrian regime does not meet the deadline by Friday midday, the command of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) announces that it will no longer be tied by any commitment to the Annan plan ... and our duty will be ... to defend civilians,” a FSA statement said.

The suggested ultimatum came as the death toll from assaults by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on protest hubs spirals and after the U.N. reported two massacres of civilians in the past week, leaving an April 12 truce negotiated by U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Annan in tatters.

The FSA had singled out in particular a May 25-26 massacre near the central town of Houla in which more than 100 people died, including 49 children and 34 women.

Meanwhile, Senior U.S. senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman said Thursday it was time to arm Syria’s opposition as they expressed disgust over a massacre last week blamed on government forces.

“It’s time to act. It’s time to give the Syrian opposition the weapons in order to defend themselves. It’s not a fair fight,” the Republican McCain told reporters in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

McCain is in Muslim-majority Malaysia along with Lieberman, an independent, for a brief visit that included a meeting with Prime Minister Najib Razak on Wednesday and other officials.

During their talks, the pair expressed their “repugnance and anger and disgust at the behavior of (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad and the recent massacre of innocent women and children”, McCain said.

The FSA, meanwhile, demanded that the regime adhere to all six points of the Annan plan: an immediate ceasefire; an end to all forms of violence; tanks and armored vehicles out of civilian areas; humanitarian access to all regions; the freeing of political prisoners and protesters; and access by the media to all parts of the country.

The FSA also demanded a commitment by Assad’s regime not to attack the UN observer mission overseeing the truce, “and the opening of serious negotiations through the United Nations to deliver power to the people.”

More than 13,000 people have been killed, mostly civilians, since an uprising erupted against Assad’s regime in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan left Damascus this week with no apparent concessions from the Syrian leader.

‘Civil war’

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Thursday that the Syrian crisis could lead to a civil war.

Ban cited fears, raised on Tuesday by Annan, that Syria may have already reached a "tipping point" following the slaughter of 108 people in Houla last Friday. The April 12 ceasefire, that forms part of Annan's 6-point plan to restore peace, has so far failed to take hold.

"The massacre of civilians of the sort seen last weekend could plunge Syria into catastrophic civil war - a civil war from which the country would never recover," the U.N. secretary-general told a conference in Istanbul.

Meanwhile, Clinton criticized Russia's resistance to U.N. action on Syria, warning that its policy could contribute to a civil war.

The Russians "are telling me they don't want to see a civil war. I have been telling them their policy is going help to contribute to a civil war," she told a mainly student audience on a trip to Copenhagen.

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