Syria’s regime declared on Saturday it has defeated those seeking to bring it down while reiterating support for a UN-Arab peace plan, as its troops reportedly shelled rebels in the city of Homs.
Foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi, cited by the official SANA news agency, also said Syrian troops would only draw back from urban areas once the security situation is stable.
The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in the crackdown by forces of 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 towards a renewed Syria has begun,” Makdisi said in an interview originally carried on state television.
The spokesman said the Assad government’s focus was also to “rally visions behind the reform process” and “prevent those who seek to sabotage reform.”
Troops would only withdraw from residential zones once they were secure, Makdisi said, adding UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan acknowledged there were “illegitimate armed elements within the opposition”.
“The presence of the Syrian Arab army in Syrians cities is for defensive purposes (so) as to protect the civilians,” he said. “Once peace and security prevail, the army is to pull out.”
SANA said Makdisi made the appearance on television 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 in Syria as security forces sought to crush the revolt.
Shells rained down on the flashpoint central city of Homs on Friday, as thousands of people protested nationwide against what they regard as the inaction of Arab governments dealing with the crisis.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a child was killed on Saturday by rocket fire in the Bayada area of Homs, where troops fired shells at rebels in its Khaldiyeh district at the rate of one a minute.
The monitoring group also reported heavy fighting near Damascus and in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the uprising, with at least seven people reported killed nationwide.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks on Saturday with Gulf Arab leaders aimed at putting pressure on Syria’s regime to stop its bloody crackdown.
Clinton’s talks in Riyadh came before a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Istanbul on Sunday which ministers from dozens of Arab and Western countries are due to attend.
But there are differences over how to help the Syrian people in their bid for democracy.
Saudi Arabia and its neighbour Qatar have called for arming the opposition, which includes the Free Syrian Army made up of Syrian military defectors.
Makdisi said the Istanbul gathering was not of Syria’s friends, “and its agenda does not include friendship towards Syria, but enmity.”
“It is a clear obstacle to Annan’s mission,” he added, urging the international community to help Syria, not exert pressure on it.
An Arab League summit in Baghdad this week rejected the option of arming any side, and urged all parties to engage in a “serious national dialogue.”
The Iraqi premier’s spokesman said on Saturday his country may not attend the Istanbul conference as it wants to maintain its ability to mediate.
“We want to maintain our mediation role, and the role of mediator sometimes requires not participating in this conference or that,” Ali Mussawi told AFP.
On Friday, Clinton discussed with Saudi leaders efforts to send more humanitarian aid into Syria, and support opposition efforts to present a united and inclusive political vision for the future.
They also discussed tightening US, European, Canadian, Arab and Turkish sanctions on Syria, a US State Department official said.
The United States and Turkey have agreed on the need to provide communications and other non-lethal aid to Syria’s opposition.
In Washington, the Treasury Department announced it was targeting Defence Minister Dawoud Rajiha as well as the army’s deputy chief of staff and the head of presidential security, in its latest round of sanctions against Damascus.
The United Nations is making plans for a Syria ceasefire observer mission if hostilities halt.
Syria has agreed to admit a UN team of experts to examine the conditions for deploying the mission, Makdisi said on Saturday.
A UN official in New York said a minimum of 250 observers would be needed if Damascus halted its offensive on protesters and agreed to the international force.
Annan’s peace plan calls for a commitment to stop all armed violence, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, media access to all areas affected by the fighting, an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate, and release of arbitrarily detained people.