Syria's Assad says will cooperate with UN peace plan if rebels halt violence
Arab Leaders at Iraq regional summit ask for 'complete' implementation of UN-backed peace plan; U.K. doubles non-military aid to Syrian opposition; At least 21 people reportedly killed in Syria Thursday.
Syrian President Bashar Assad says will spare no effort to make the mission of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan a success but he demands that armed opponents commit to halting violence, it was reported on Thursday.
SANA news agency quoted Assad, in a letter to the leaders of the BRIC economic powers, as saying "the countries which support the armed groups with money and weapons must be persuaded to stop this immediately."
Arab leaders at a regional summit in Iraq's capital on Thursday endorsed a UN-backed peace plan for Syria which they said should be implemented "immediately and completely."
The six-point plan, drawn up by Kofi Annan, calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centres, humanitarian assistance, the release of prisoners and free movement and access for journalists.
Violence continued to rage in Syria, despite talk of peace, with at least 21 people, including two high-ranking army officers, reportedly killed on Thursday in violence across the country.
Syrian rebels intensified their hit-and-run attacks against government troops Thursday, killing two colonels in the centre of the country's largest city Aleppo, opposition activists said.
State media confirmed the deaths of the two officers, blaming it on "terrorists."
"Armed terrorists opened fire on the two colonels as they were on their way to work," the official news agency SANA said.
In the restive province of Hama, rebels attacked an army truck and killed two soldiers, activists said, while civilians were reported killed in the central province of Homs.
"At least 13 civilians were killed in the renewed shelling on the areas of Al-Khalidiyeh, Baba al Sibaa, Bab Dreyeb in Homs," activist Omar Homsi told dpa by phone.
Meanwhile, the U.K. announced it will double non-military aid to opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad and expand its scope to equipment, possibly including secure telephones to help activists communicate more easily,
officials said on Thursday.
The British government will provide 500,000 pounds ($800,000) worth of new aid in addition to 450,000 pounds already donated, Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
"It includes agreement in principle for practical non-lethal support to them inside Syria," Hague said in a speech.
The aid will be for Syrian activists working peacefully to achieve a political transition in Syria, government officials said.
They said there had been no change in their opposition to arming rebels and of having no links with the Free Syrian Army.
Until now, Britain has provided the Syrian opposition with training in areas such as media skills and in gathering information on human rights abuses that could be used later to prosecute Syrian officials.
The new aid will include equipment - possibly items such as secure telephones to help activists to communicate without fear of detection and attack, a government source said.