Syrian President Bashar Assad must order a ceasefire without waiting for the opposition to make the first move under a peace plan proposed by international envoy Kofi Annan, Annan's spokesman said on Friday.
"We expect him to implement this plan immediately," spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva. "The deadline is now".
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Annan's proposal calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from cities and towns, humanitarian assistance, the release of prisoners and free movement and access for journalists. It does not hinge on Assad leaving office.
"If you read the agreement...it specifically asks the government to withdraw its troops, to cease using heavy weapons in populated centers. The very clear implication here is that the government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side and with the mediator," Fawzi said.
Annan to return to Syria
Asked if China and Russia had backed the call for the government forces to make the first move, Fawzi said they had explicitly backed all provisions of the six-point plan put forward by Annan, who is acting on the behalf of the United Nations and the Arab League.
"The rationale is very simple. We are appealing to the stronger party to make a gesture of good faith and stop the killing. We are certain that if that happens, the opposition will follow suit."
There was no date yet set for the trip to Tehran, which was still being discussed with the Iranian authorities. Annan will also return to Syria "as soon as the time is right" but he has no plans to visit Israel, Fawzi said.
Assad said on Thursday that Syria would spare no effort to ensure the success of Annan's peace mission but that other countries must immediately stop funding and arming opposition groups.
5 people killed in clashes
Meanwhile, Syrian artillery targeted parts of the city of Homs, killing at least five people in clashes around the country, opposition activists said on Friday.
Homs residents heard the crash of artillery and the thump of mortar rounds in anti-Assad areas of Syria's third city as troops conducted raids.
Two people were killed by government snipers in Homs and the northern city of Idlib, and two others were shot dead as they drove in the country, the activists said.
Soldiers and rebels also clashed in Idlib province with many wounded reported, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Troops and rebels fought overnight in the northern towns of Harasta and Arbin. Rebels fired rocket propelled grenades at a building, killing one soldier, activists said.
The United Nations says Assad's forces have killed at least 9,000 people in the year-long uprising. The government says about 3,000 soldiers and members of the security forces have been killed by opposition fighters.
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