After agreeing to abide by a plan drawn up by Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League envoy, Syria has pledged to pull out its forces battling armed rebels by April 10 — a move that, if implemented, could lead to reconciliation and political transition in a country embroiled in conflict for the last one year.
Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesman for Mr. Annan, has been quoted as saying that the Syrian government has agreed to withdraw forces from Sunday and complete the pullout by April 10. After the withdrawal, a ceasefire can commence within 48 hours. United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice clarified that the Syrian opposition should hold fire 48 hours after the Syrian forces ceased to use force.
“Mr. Annan's deputy, Mr. Nasser al-Kidwa, has also had constructive exchanges with the opposition to urge them to cease their operations within 48 hours of a complete cessation of government hostilities,” she observed.
Analysts point out that the prospects of a ceasefire are still uncertain, especially on account of the presence of a scattered opposition, making it hard to adopt a unified position to end the fighting.
Syria's Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari has hinted that his government would not be in a position to enforce Mr. Annan's plan unilaterally. Speaking to reporters outside the Security Council on Monday, Mr. Jaafari said that “all the details [regarding ceasefire] will be part of the final commitment of everybody, not only the Syrian government”.
Coinciding with Mr. Annan's plan, which envisages the rapid flow of humanitarian supplies for civilians affected by the violence, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reinforced its appeal for a daily pause in the fighting. ICRC chief Jakob Kellenberger said he planned to visit Damascus on Tuesday to propose a two-hour cessation every day to allow evacuation of the wounded and aid to flow.
In a statement issued in Geneva, the ICRC said that in Damascus, Mr. Kellenberger, would meet the heads of the Foreign, Interior and Health Ministries to seek greater access to “vulnerable people” and detainees.
Mr. Annan who had briefed the United Nations Security Council on Monday over satellite from Geneva, also appealed to council members to prepare for the deployment of U.N. monitors to Syria, should the plan to halt the fighting begins to take root.
It is likely that only a small number of monitors would be initially deployed. But there numbers could later grow to around 200, after peacekeeping contingents in the region pooled in.
However, these deployments could begin only after a truce came into force, and concurrence of all Security Council members had been obtained.
The Russians seem to have played a major part in convincing Syria to abide by the Annan mission. During a visit to Armenia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “We are in contact with the Syrian government every day, proceeding from the fact that the Western countries and their partners will send similar signals to the armed groups that kill people there.” He added that Moscow had “established regular contacts with the Syrian National Council (SNC) as well as with other national coordination committees, which are operating as opposition forces in Syria”. Russia and China have played a key role in the Security Council in blocking Western and Arab attempts to topple Bashar al-Assad from the Syrian presidency.