Syria to end military operations on Thursday - state TV

Kofi Annan: "I've approached governments with influence to ensure that all parties respect the ceasefire"

Syria will end military operations on Thursday, state TV has said, the day a ceasefire brokered by the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria is scheduled to come into effect.

Envoy Kofi Annan said the Syrian authorities had told him they would "cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory" by 06:00 (03:00 GMT).

However, the rebels said they doubted the government side would stop.

Violence continued on Wednesday, in Homs particularly.

Activists said at least 11 people had been killed across the country.

"After our armed forces completed successful operations in combating the criminal acts of the armed terrorist groups and enforced the state's rule over its territory, it has been decided to stop these operations from Thursday morning," state TV quoted a ministry official as saying.

Analysis

A huge amount of pressure has been mounted to bring about the agreement of all sides to the Annan truce.

Above all, Russia must have exerted powerful influence behind the scenes to induce the change of tune by the Damascus regime.

China and Iran, Syria's other two important international friends, have also strongly backed the Annan mission and may have helped bend President Assad's ear.

Mr Annan's priority was to stop the carnage. If that can be achieved, and stabilised by the insertion of UN observers, huge challenges will remain - above all, working towards a functioning political settlement.

Again, Russia is poised to play a crucial role. Much will depend on what vision it has for Syria's future - perhaps regime mutation rather than the regime change sought by the opposition and its western backers.

The announcement made no mention of Mr Annan's ceasefire plan.

A spokesman for the main rebel force, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said the ceasefire was unlikely to take effect.

"I don't believe our forces will stop shooting because the other side won't stop," Captain Ayham al-Kurdi said in a BBC interview on the Turkey-Syria border.

"If the other side stopped, the Syrian people would march on the president's palace on the same day. This means the regime won't stop."

The Syrian government failed to withdraw its troops and weaponry from population centres on Tuesday as agreed under the Annan plan.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday she was alarmed about the "ongoing violence" in Syria as the ceasefire deadline approaches.

Meanwhile, the number of refugees sheltering in neighbouring Jordan has reached 95,000, a Jordanian government official has told the BBC.

Jordan follows an unannounced policy of offering refuge to all Syrians entering the country, legally or illegally.

Earlier this month, Turkey said it was accommodating 24,000 Syrian refugees. There are no figures available for Lebanon.

'Unimaginable consequences'

Mr Annan received a letter from the Syrian foreign ministry agreeing to cease fighting but reserving the right to respond "proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups against civilians, government forces or public and private property", his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

Footage purporting to show clashes in Homs on Wednesday has been posted online

Earlier, speaking on a visit to Iran, Mr Annan told reporters he had received "further clarifications" from the government of President Bashar al-Assad on how it intended to suspend hostilities.

"If everyone respects it, I think by six in the morning on Thursday we shall see improved conditions on the ground."

But he said the government was still seeking assurances that opposition forces would also stop the fighting "so that we could see cessation of all the violence".

Mr Annan was speaking after talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, during which he appealed for Tehran's support.

He said the region "cannot afford another shock" and warned that any miscalculation or mistakes in Syria could have "unimaginable consequences".

Iran has been a key ally of Damascus, but Mr Salehi said that "as long as the peace plan continues its approach, Iran will support it".

China, which has blocked - with Russia - two UN Security Council resolutions condemning the crackdown on dissent, also called on the Syrian government to "respond" to Mr Annan's peace initiative and "fully implement the commitment of the ceasefire and withdrawal of troops".

Russia said it was now up to the opposition to respond with its own ceasefire.

Border shootings

Under Mr Annan's six-point peace plan, sponsored by the UN and the Arab League, the Syrian military was to have completed its withdrawal from population centres and stopped the use of heavy weaponry by Tuesday, ahead of a full ceasefire coming into place on Thursday.

After initial agreement, the plan foundered when Syria said it wanted written guarantees from the rebels that they would end all violence.

Annan's six-point peace plan

1. Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people

2. UN-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians

3. All parties to ensure provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause

4. Authorities to intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons

5. Authorities to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists

6. Authorities to respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully

The Free Syrian Army has said that while its fighters are "committed" to Mr Annan's ceasefire, they do not recognise the Assad government "and for that reason we will not give guarantees".

The FSA has also warned that it will resume attacks on government forces if they do not fully comply with the Annan plan.

Damascus also insisted that UN observers had to arrive in Syria for the ceasefire to begin, reversing - and effectively rejecting - Mr Annan's timeline.

On Wednesday, activists reported that the Khalidya district of the central city of Homs was again being shelled by government forces.

Troops backed by tanks also carried out a series of raids in the southern city of Deraa and several surrounding towns.

Restrictions on reporting in Syria mean such reports are impossible to independently verify.

The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed in the uprising, which began more than a year ago. In February, the government put the death toll at 3,838 - 2,493 civilians and 1,345 security forces personnel.

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