|Today's front-page of Syria's newsbreaker al-Watan|
Syria won’t comply with the April 10 deadline set by Kofi Annan to halt fighting and withdraw its forces from population centers.
Russian experts join Syrian state-run media in saying the deadline is as dead as a doornail and waiting to be put six feet under.
Two leading Arab analysts concur, saying the whole Annan troubleshooting mission is with God already.
Damascus daily al-Watan quotes a “senior Syrian official” as saying the government “has requested written assurances from Annan that the rival side is committed to implement his plan and seeks a political solution to the crisis.”
“In a meeting with a small group of journalists, including one from al-Watan, the senior official stated, ‘Damascus did not relay to Annan its commitment to April 10 as a final deadline to withdraw all its forces and heavy weapons from Syrian cities. It only informed him it started pulling out heavy weapons from some cities – like Homs, Idlib and the Damascus suburb of Zabadani – and would be withdrawing part, but not all, of the remaining units by April 10.’
“The official insisted the set date (of April 10) poses a challenge for Annan to clinch a commitment from the other side. The official said, ‘Having signed on to his plan, Damascus wants from Annan written assurances that once the rival side follows suit and the Syrian government implements the first three in his six-point plan, the countries that vowed to arm and fund the opposition would desist and armed gangs would stop shooting at civilians.”
The Damascus daily goes on to quote President Bashar al-Assad as having personally told Annan: “If the rival side can’t be bound by any agreement, don’t press for a one-sided cessation of violence on our part.”
Al-Watan says the unnamed senior Syrian official describes “cessation of violence” as the “Gordian knot” in the Annan mission.
Significantly, al-Watan’s front-page report ranks top on Lebanese Hezbollah’s Al Manar news network with a headline saying: “Damascus won’t withdraw its troops without guarantees from the armed gangs, and April 10 is not a deadline.”
At the same time, Syria Online today features a hard-hitting comment shooting down Annan’s six-point plan, with a rebuttal of his “extensive second point.” The said 2nd point asks the Syrian authorities to:
“commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country.
“To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centers, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers.
“As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism.
“Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism.”
Syria Online says the call on Damascus to immediately end violence and cease troop movements and the use of heavy weapons would “create a security vacuum” and give hordes of armed groups the opportunity to slip into Syria “across its five borders” with Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Israel.
“How can we accept Annan’s so-called plan when no one, including Annan himself, can guarantee the armed gangs won’t wriggle again and exploit the ‘ceasefire’ to regroup and take delivery of the anti-armor missiles promised by Qatar and Saudi Arabia?” Syria Online wonders.
It says Annan’s plan will also open Syria’s doors to all manner of spies and spooks disguised as UN ceasefire monitors. “We have to be extremely cautious and not allow ourselves to be rushed by Annan and his entourage.”
Four Russian experts – all quoted today by Voice of Russia -- have surprisingly joined Damascus in lambasting the April 10 deadline.
According to Sergei Demidenko, of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Studies and Analysis: “One can hardly expect any settlement now because Bashar al-Assad may order the troops to pull out, but under no circumstances will the opposition lay down arms. The opposition (unleashed against the regime) by Saudi Arabia and Qatar will continue its attacks as before. The troops will have to again storm the cities in what will prove a vicious circle. The situation is clearly drifting into a civil war. The warring factions will certainly not stop hostilities by April 12…”
Yuri Krupnov, a political analyst and an expert on oriental studies, says, "The so-called Annan plan can yield no positive result” since it equates protesters and rebel groups with Syria’s lawful government. “This is absolutely wrong, of course.” The rebels have been increasingly resorting to al-Qaeda terrorist methods. “It follows that any government is free to fight terrorism, not only the Syrian government.”
Boris Dolgov, an expert with the Institute of Oriental Studies, believes "it is unfair” to ask government forces to cease fire first… Although Syrian authorities agreed to stop military actions simultaneously with the opposition, the position of leading Western countries, Persian Gulf monarchies and Turkey hampers ending the crisis in Syria."
Gumer Isayev, an analyst with the Center for Middle East Studies concurs. “The demand that the Syrian government should first stop using force sounds quite abstract. It means if the insurgents attacked the troops, the troops should let insurgents kill them."
In today’s Arab press, two analysts suggest the whole Annan mission is on its last legs because the Syrian regime simply doesn’t want it.
Rosanna Boumounsef, writing for the Beirut daily al-Nahar, says notwithstanding doubts about Assad’s credibility in diplomatic circles, “carrying through Annan’s plan would inevitably return Syria to the status quo ante bellum of peaceful protests that effectively sparked the revolution 14 months ago.”
Abdullah Iskandar, writing for the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, considers the April 10 ceasefire deadline set by Annan “totally beyond reach, if only because the regime does not feel obliged to make concessions it refused to make earlier, and because the security solution it chose at the outbreak of the protest movement remains its optimal option… In such a case, the situation is heading toward the worst-case scenario” of civil war.