|Syria says troops to pull back 'after peace'|
Government spokesman says army will stay in cities "to protect civilians" in apparent rebuff of UN-backed peace plan.
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2012 12:24
Jihad Makdissi, a foreign ministry spokesman, said in comments carried by state media on Saturday that "the presence of the Syrian Arab Army in Syrian cities is for defensive purposes [so] as to protect the civilians".
Makdissi's remarks followed renewed violence in several parts of the country, with the Syrian Revolution General Commission reporting heavy shelling in the central city of Homs on al-Khalidiya neighbourhood for a 12th day.
There were also reports of clashes between government troops and armed rebels on Saturday in the northwestern province of Idlib and in the Damascus neighbourhood of Jobar.
Also in the capital, two people were reportedly killed and several others injured in Kafarsouseh neighbourhood after security forces opened fire at a funeral for a person killed a day earlier.
The reports of violence came ahead of Sunday's "Friends of the Syria" conference in the Turkish city of Istanbul, which will bring together 60 countries seeking to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.
'Deadline is now'
On Friday, Kofi Annan’s spokesperson said "the deadline is now" for government forces to halt attacks on opposition and implement peace plan.
Removing any ambiguity about the ceasefire terms of the peace plan Assad has said he accepts, Fawzi said it was up to the Syrian military to move first.
The Annan plan "specifically asks the government to withdraw its troops, to cease using heavy weapons in populated centres", he said.
"The very clear implication here is that the government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side and with the mediator."