Syria yesterday said it had defeated those seeking to bring down the regime while reiterating support for a UN-Arab peace plan, as its troops reportedly shelled rebels in the flashpoint city of Homs.
Foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi, cited by the SANA news agency, also said that Syrian troops would withdraw from urban areas once they had been stabilized.
The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed in the crackdown by forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on an Arab Spring-inspired uprising that began a year ago with pro-democracy protests.
“The battle to topple the state is over and the battle to solidify stability ... and move on toward a renewed Syria has begun,” Makdisi said in an interview originally carried on state television.
The spokesman said the al-Assad government’s focus was also to “rally visions behind the reform process” and “prevent those who seek to sabotage reform.”
Troops would withdraw from urban areas once they were secured, he said, adding that UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan acknowledged there were “illegitimate armed elements within the opposition.”
“The presence of the Syrian Arab army in Syrian cities is for defensive purposes, [so] as to protect the civilians,” Makdisi was quoted as saying by SANA.
“Once peace and security prevail, the army is to pull out,” he added.
SANA said that Makdisi made the appearance on TV in a bid to explain to Syrians why the government had this week accepted Annan’s six-point peace plan.
Annan appealed for an immediate ceasefire on Friday, as monitors said at least 39 people — all but seven of them civilians — were killed across Syria as security forces sought to crush the popular uprising.
Shells rained down on Homs on Friday, as thousands of people took to the streets across Syria to protest against what they regard as the inaction of Arab governments dealing with the crisis.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said that the Homs neighborhood of Khaldiyeh, one of the main rebel bastions, came under renewed rocket fire from the military again yesterday morning.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to hold talks yesterday with Gulf Arab leaders aimed at putting pressure on Syria’s regime to stop its bloody protest crackdown.
Clinton was expected to hold the talks in Riyadh before a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Istanbul today, which ministers from dozens of Arab and Western countries are due to attend.