Assad talks peace, demands rebels halt violence

In this March 27, 2012 citizen journalism image provided by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, protesters wave Syrian revolutionary flags during a demonstration in Daraa, Syria. AP Photo

(CBS/AP) BEIRUT - Syria's president promised to do all he can to ensure U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan for his country succeeds but demanded that Annan secure a commitment from his opponents to halt violence even as rebels carried out a string of bold attacks, killing two army colonels and kidnapping a high-ranking pilot.

Bashar Assad's condition of an express promise from the opposition to stop attacks could complicate Annan's attempts to bring an end to more than a year of violence that the U.N. says has killed more than 9,000 people.

The opposition has cautiously welcomed Annan's six-point plan, which calls for Assad's regime to implement a cease-fire. But the opposition is also deeply skeptical Assad will carry it out, believing he has accepted the plan just to win time while his forces continue their assault to crush the uprising. Armed rebels are unlikely to stop fighting unless offensives by security forces halt.

A Western diplomat, speaking about the Kofi Annan 6-point peace plan, and Annan's planned briefing to the U.N. Security Council said that the negotiations are complicated and will take weeks if not months to put a ceasefire into effect, but his time is not unlimited.

The Western diplomat added, "Annan knows he has only a few cartridges, and he will therefore only have one or two shots," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk, from the U.N.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Obama administration shares the opposition's skepticism.

"We've seen absolutely nothing on the ground that indicates they're adhering to its calls for Syrian artillery and heavy weaponry to go back to barracks and for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian assistance to be put in place. To date, we've seen no steps in that direction. So, it's not surprising but it's discouraging and disappointing," Toner said.

The diplomatic moves came as Arab leaders met Thursday in the Iraqi capital Baghdad in their annual summit and were expected to issue a resolution backing Annan's plan. In speeches at the summit, many leaders made clear they felt the burden was on Assad's regime to halt the fighting.

"The Syrian government is required today to listen to the voice of reason and wisdom and stop all kinds of violence," the emir of Kuwait told the gathering.

In comments carried on Syria's state news agency, Assad said "Syria will spare no effort to make (Annan's) mission a success and hopes it would return security and stability to the country."

But he added that Annan must also get a commitment from armed groups to cease their "terrorist acts" against the government.

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Throughout the crisis, Assad's regime has held that it faces not a popular uprising against his rule but a campaign of violence by terrorists.

Syria's uprising began a year ago with peaceful protests against Assad, which were met with a fierce crackdown by security forces. Since then, army defectors and protesters who took up weapons have formed militias, initially to protect protesters. But as the bloodshed rose, they turned to seizing pro-opposition neighborhoods, towns and areas and launching attacks on government forces, usually raids on checkpoints or on army convoys.

The new attacks Thursday were particularly bold.

In Aleppo, Syria's largest city, gunmen opened fire on two army colonels in the downtown Bab al-Hadid traffic circle, killing them. The state news agency SANA said the four attackers belonged to an "armed terrorist group." The officers, identified as Abdel-Karim al-Rai and Fuad Shaban, were on their way to work.

In eastern Ghouta, a suburb a few kilometers (miles) from Damascus, gunmen kidnapped pilot Mohammad Omar al-Dirbas, a brigadier, while on his way to work, SANA said. The agency did not say where the three worked or what their positions were.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Also Thursday, rebels attacked an army truck and killed two soldiers in the central province of Hama, activists said. Fresh clashes also broke out between government troops and army defectors in the country's north and south, and activists said security forces killed at least 16 civilians across Syria on Thursday, including a child and two women.

SANA said authorities successfully liberated five military personnel who it said were kidnapped earlier by an "armed group" in the northern province of Idlib.

Aleppo has largely been spared clashes between government forces and rebels. However, two mysterious bombings in the city this month killed 29 people. No group claimed responsibility.

The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed since Syrians first took to the streets last year to call for political reforms.

In Thursday's attack on the army truck in central Hama province, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels killed two soldiers.

The group said at least five civilians were killed Thursday in army raids on rebellious villages in the Idlib province along Syria's northern border with Turkey. It also reported clashes in the southern town of Dael.

An activist in that town said residents woke up to a huge explosion followed by intense gunfire. He said the fighting and gunfire from government snipers have kept civilians pinned in their homes.

"The security situation is very hard, with snipers on the roofs," Adel al-Omari said over the phone. "It is very dangerous here, and you can't leave your house. Anyone who moves is targeted."

The Observatory said eight soldiers were wounded in the Dael clashes.

The group said security forces killed at least 16 civilians across Syria on Thursday, while another group, the Local Coordination Committees, put the day's death toll at 31, including a child and two women.

Activist claims could not be independently verified. The Syrian government rarely comments on clashes and has barred most news media from working in the country.

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