Assad tours natural gas plant near Homs_370.
(photo credit: Reuters)
BEIRUT - Syria says the year-long revolt to topple President Bashar Assad is now over, but it will keep its forces in cities to "maintain security" until it is safe to withdraw in keeping with a UN-backed peace deal.
The agreement proposed by United Nations-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan says the Syrian authorities must be first to withdraw troops and stop violence immediately.
The army kept up an offensive against opposition strongholds on Saturday, pummeling the Khalidiya district of Homs city.
"Mortars are falling every minute and the sounds of explosions are shaking the neighborhood," an activist report said. A child was killed by rocket fire in the al-Bayyada area and a man was killed in crossfire in clashes near a checkpoint.
Rebels battled army forces near a base in Jaramaneh in Damascus province. Five bodies bearing signs of torture were found near Maarat al-Noaman, the report said. A soldier was killed when rebels ambushed a troop carrier in Deraa province.
Despite the violence, Damascus says it has the upper hand.
"The battle to topple the state is over," Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi told Syria TV late on Friday. "Our goal now is to ensure stability and create a perspective for reform and development in Syria while preventing others from sabotaging the path of reform."
His assertion follows army victories over rebel strongholds in the cities of Hama, Homs and Idlib, and Assad's acceptance this week of Annan's plan that does not demand he step down.
Calls by Gulf Arab states to arm the rebels have fizzled. The political opposition remains divided, and prospects of Western-led military intervention are close to zero.
Assad has endorsed Annan's six-point peace plan, which has the UN Security Council's unanimous backing, but Western leaders say the 46-year-old Syrian leader has broken similar promises before and must be judged by actions not words.
Assad's opponents have not yet formally accepted the plan.