Syria - AP - March 27, 2012
Black smoke rises from buildings in Homs, Syria, March 27, 2012. Photo by AP
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A Syrian official said on Friday that the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad will not pull troops from cities and towns engulfed in the country's unrest before life returns to normal in these areas.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi told state TV late Friday the military is in these cities "in a state of self defense and protecting civilians."

He spoke just hours after the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's office appealed on Syria's government to stop military activities first as "the stronger party" and in a "gesture of good faith."

The Foreign Ministry spokesman also said that Annan had acknowledged the government's right to respond to armed violence. Makdissi said that handling this was a Syrian matter.

He said Syria would cooperate with the United Nations to “remove any excuses" for further international pressure.

"The battle to topple the state is over. 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," Makdissi said.

He said Syria's conditions on its acceptance of Annan's proposals included recognition of the government's sovereignty and its right to security.”

The other requirement is not to harm Syrian stability ... When security can be maintained for civilians, the army will leave. It is not waiting for Kofi Annan to leave, this is a Syrian matter.”

On Saturday, clashes erupted between Syrian government troops and opposition rebels in and around the capital Damascus, activists reported.

The fighting raged between regular army units and the rebel Syrian Free Army near a main square in Damascus and on its outskirts, added the activists without providing casualty figures.

Elsewhere, rebels killed a brigadier in the army intelligence service in the southern province of Daraa, the activists reported Saturday. It was not immediately clear how the officer was killed.

Rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Assad have recently stepped up their attacks on the government's security and military facilities, observers say.

Kofi Annan's plan calls for a ceasefire, to be monitored by UN observers, access to humanitarian services and talks between the government and the opposition.

Assad has said he would "spare no effort" for the success of Annan's plan, according to Syria's official news agency.

But he insisted that the proposal would only work if "terrorist acts" by armed rebels and foreign powers stopped.

Syria's uprising began a year ago with peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad's regime. In the face of a fierce crackdown, it has become increasingly militarized. The rebels now demand Assad's ouster.

The UN estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed in the fighting.