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Syria says revolt beaten, US seeks 'next steps'

Syria's regime has declared victory over rebel forces while voicing support for a UN-Arab peace plan, ahead of international talks in Turkey today aimed at pressing Damascus to end its bloody crackdown.
By HT Correspondent | AFP, Damascus
UPDATED ON APR 01, 2012 08:12 AM IST

Syria's regime has declared victory over rebel forces while voicing support for a UN-Arab peace plan, ahead of international talks in Turkey on Sunday aimed at pressing Damascus to end its bloody crackdown.

"The battle to topple the state is over, and the battle to solidify stability... and move on towards a renewed Syria has begun," foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi said in an interview carried on state television.


The opposition reacted by calling for outside powers to arm the rebel forces, while the United States and Gulf Arab states urged international envoy Kofi Annan to spell out the "next steps" if Damascus fails to implement his plan.

Makdisi, cited by the official SANA news agency, also said Syrian troops would only draw back from urban areas once the security situation is stable.

The regime's claims came on the eve of a "Friends of Syria" in Turkey on Sunday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Istanbul late Saturday from Riyadh where she had warned that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad risked backing out of his commitment to the six-point peace plan.

Clinton was to be joined by representatives from 70 European, Arab and other countries to look at ways of supporting the opposition, who will also be present here, and applying further international pressure on the Assad regime.

During a press conference in Riyadh, Clinton reaffirmed that Washington is looking at sending non-lethal support like communications gear and medical aid to an increasingly armed opposition.

However, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are calling for arming the anti-Assad movement.

Clinton said the US focus in Istanbul will be to "intensify" the array of US, European, Canadian, Arab and Turkish sanctions on Syria, and to look at sending more humanitarian aid to the needy, despite Syrian efforts to block it.

She also said she wants the Syrian leadership and security forces to be held accountable for the abuses that have taken place amid allegations of murder, torture and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas.

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council said the Istanbul gathering must back the arming of rebels.

"The Syrian National Council expresses the demands of the Syrian people," Burhan Ghalioun told reporters. "We have repeatedly called for the arming of the Free Syrian Army.

Ghalioun called for "a change in the balance of power" after more than a year of violence.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in the crackdown by forces of President Bashar al-Assad on an Arab Spring-inspired uprising that began a year ago with pro-democracy protests.

At least 32 people -- 24 of them civilians -- were killed in violence nationwide on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

An Arab League summit in Baghdad this week rejected the option of arming any side, and urged all parties to engage in a "serious national dialogue."

The Iraqi premier's spokesman said on Saturday his country may not attend the Istanbul conference as it wants to maintain its ability to mediate.

Annan's peace plan calls for a commitment to stop all armed violence, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, media access to all areas affected by the fighting, an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate, and release of arbitrarily detained people.

On Friday, Clinton discussed with Saudi leaders efforts to send more humanitarian aid to Syria, and support opposition efforts to present a united and inclusive political vision for the future.

They also discussed tightening sanctions on Syria, a US State Department official said.

Asked about internal opposition divisions, Ghalioun said: "This is not the case, we are on the path to reunification... We are more unified than the international community, which has to live up to its responsibilities and close ranks."

The United Nations is making plans for a Syria ceasefire observer mission if hostilities halt.

Syria has agreed to admit a UN team of experts to examine the conditions for deploying the mission, Makdisi said on Saturday.

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