REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Syrian authorities will not withdraw forces from Syrian cities without written guarantees from opposition groups that they lay down their arms and halt attacks, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday reported by news services.
Rebels with the Free Syrian Army quickly signaled that they would provide no written guarantees to a government they do not recognize, suggesting that fighting probably will continue past the Tuesday deadline for a cease-fire called for in a peace accord negotiated by U.N. special 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,” the Foreign Ministry said in its statement, according to Agence France-Presse.
"Gradual pullbacks are being made but completing and achieving all needed requirements and goals would need guarantees from others," Jihad Makdissi, a spokesman for the Syrian foreign minister, added in an email.
An officer from the Free Syrian Army spokesperson's office in Antakya, Turkey, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the group's leadership has expressed its commitment to the cease-fire in recent days. “We didn’t receive such a request to present a written guarantee from the office of joint envoy," he said.
However, he added, "We don’t accept any demands from the Syrian government as it is not a legitimate authority.”
The rebel group's commander, Riad Asaad, told the Associated Press that his group was prepared to abide by the Annan agreement but rejected the government's new unilateral demand.
Annan had told the U.N. Security Council last week that Syria had agreed to the April 10 deadline to abide by a U.N.-backed peace plan, which would require its forces to stop shelling opposition-held areas and withdraw tanks and heavy weapons from cities and towns.
Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for Annan, declined to comment on the Syrian government's demand for “written guarantees.”
-- Rima Marrouch
Photo: This image provided by the opposition Local Coordination Committees in Syria purportedly shows people chanting anti-government slogans Friday during a demonstration in Idlib. Credit: Local Coordination Committees