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Syria 'accepts' Annan plan to end strife

 Kofi Annan, left, has secured the support of China and Russia for his peace plan  [EPA]The Syrian government has agreed to accept the six-point plan by joint United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on ending the violence in Syria, the former UN chief's spokesman has said.

"The Syrian government has written to the joint special envoy Kofi Annan, accepting his six-point plan, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council," Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Mr Annan views this as an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue that would fulfil the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," he added.

Annan, who is in China to seek Beijing's support for his peace proposal, had written to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asking Damascus to "put its commitments into immediate effect".

His plan calls on Assad to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from protest hubs, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, access to all areas affected by the fighting and a UN-supervised halt to all clashes.

Annan is due to in Baghdad on Thursday to discuss how to move forward with the plan with Arab League leaders.

The opposition had earlier dismissed Annan's initiative as an opportunity for the government to continue its repression.

Opposition reaction

Bassma Kodmani, an executive member of the Syrian National Council, a prominent opposition group, said that the SNC "cautiously welcomes the regime's acceptance of the plan".

Speaking ahead of a meeting of opposition groups in Istanbul, Kodmani said the SNC would work towards making the plan succeed, but that its demand that Bashar al-Assad step down would not be dropped.

"We do continue to say that we need to see Bashar al-Assad step down. That will never change. For this, thousands of people have sacrificed. There is no way that any representative or credible opposition group can say otherwise. What we are saying here is that if this can open the way for a peaceful transition of power, this is what we would like to see," she said.

Several opposition groups are meeting in the Turkish capital ahead of an international contact group meeting on the crisis in the Syria.

Annan's office also announced China's decision to back Annan's plan after the envoy held  talks with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, has also pledged his country's support for the plan.

Fawzi, Annan's spokesman, said that the envoy has written to Assad asking the government to "put its [plan's] commitments into immediate effect".

"Mr Annan has stressed that implementation will be key, not only for the Syrian people, who are caught in the middle of this tragedy, but also for the region and the international community as a whole," Fawzi said.

China, along with Russia drew international criticism earlier this year for blocking a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria's deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.

The former UN secretary-general's visit to Beijing came amid continued shelling of the city of Homs by Syrian troops.

Homs visit

Syria's state-run news agency, meanwhile, said Assad had travelled to the Baba Amr neighbourhood in Homs, a former opposition group stronghold that troops recaptured after a fierce assault. He was reported to have inspected troops stationed in the neighbourhood.

"Life will return to normal in Baba Amr, better than it was before," Assad told dozens of residents as he surveyed the destruction wrought on the neighbourhood following a month-long assault by government forces.

Activists say hundreds were killed during that siege.

On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based rights group, reported that at least 13 people, including four government soldiers, had been killed in overnight violence in Homs, Douma, Idlib province, Maarat al-Numan and Qusair.

Despite global condemnation, Syrian troops have pushed ahead with offensives to reclaim territory from opposition fighters.

On Tuesday, the UN revised its estimate of the number of civilians killed in Syria's year-long uprising to more than 9,000.

"Credible estimates put the total death toll since the beginning of the uprising one year ago to more than 9,000," Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the UN Security Council.

In a sign of growing anxiety about the security situation, the Syrian authorities have banned men of military age from leaving the country, Lebanese officials said on Monday.

The restrictions, issued on Saturday, require men between the age of 18 and 42 to get permission from military recruitment and immigration departments before travelling, the sources said, adding that border traffic at the main crossing between Beirut and Damascus had fallen by 60 per cent since the regulation.

The move may impact the flow of thousands of Syrian workers who go to Lebanon for agricultural and construction projects, a major source of income in rural areas already hit by economic hardship as unrest grows.

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