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Syria won't initiate halt to violence

Syria rejected international envoy Kofi Annan's call for the regime to halt violence first just days after the government agreed to a cease-fire plan.

It was the government's first response to an appeal by Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, to stop military operations first as "the stronger party" in a "gesture of good faith" to the lightly armed opposition. Annan brokered the agreement aimed at stopping the bloodshed, and President Bashar Assad agreed to it on Monday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said the government will not pull tanks and troops from towns and cities engulfed by unrest before life returns to normal there.

"The battle to bring down the state in Syria has already ended, and the battle of reinforcing stability has started," Makdessi said in an apparent reference to a string of recent regime offensives that drove rebels from key strongholds.

Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the opposition Syrian National Council, said it was clear Assad's acceptance of Annan's peace plan was another "lie and a maneuver" to gain time.

"We have no illusions over the possibility of the mission's success because Bashar Assad and the Syrian regime have no credibility to engage in a political process," he said at a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey.

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Gulf countries are eager to see Assad's fall in hopes of breaking Syria out of its alliance with their regional rival, Shiite-majority Iran.

The Saudi foreign minister and the Syrian opposition called for arming the opposition so it can defend itself from Assad's "killing machine."

The calls came on the eve of a 60-nation "Friends of the Syrian People" gathering to be held today in Turkey to discuss additional steps to increase pressure on the Syrian regime even as it boasts of having defeated those seeking to topple Assad.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said what the Syrian regime has done against its people "is nothing less than crimes against humanity."

Speaking at a joint news conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, al-Faisal called for arming the opposition and an immediate cease-fire.

"The arming of the opposition is a duty, I believe, because it cannot defend itself without weapons," he said. Clinton replied: "Very well said."

Opposition leader Ghalioun also made an appeal for arming the opposition.

"We have called for the need to arm the Free Syrian Army so that it may defend the lives of the Syrian people. We hope the friends of Syria will adopt our position," he said.

The Free Syria Army, made up mostly of army defectors, is the opposition's most potent fighting force.