#Syria rejects UN calls for unilateral truce
Regime says opposition fighters must stop the violence first, as it deploys soldiers in rebel-held town in Idlib.
Syria has rejected a call by the UN chief for it to declare a unilateral ceasefire, insisting that rebels fighting the government must stop the violence first.
Jihad Makdissi, Syrian foreign ministry spokesperson, said on Wednesday that twice during the abortive UN military observer mission deployed to Syria between April and the end of August, the Syrian government had implemented a ceasefire.
But he said the rebels “used the opportunity to expand their armed deployment and increase casualties due to terrorist activities”.
Battle for strategic town
Makdissi’s comments came as the government was sending tanks from Mastumah, south of Idlib city, to Maarat al-Numan, a rebel source told an AFP news agency reporter in the nearby town of Sarmin.
It had also deployed soldiers along the highway to Maarat al-Numan to secure the passage of its heavy armour to the strategic town on the Damascus-Aleppo highway.
The opposition fighters were battling to halt their advance, however, using rocket launchers and improvised explosive devices, the source said, adding three tanks were damaged.
The intensifying battle for Maarat al-Numan was “very important”, said the rebels who took control of the town on Tuesday after 48 hours of fierce fighting and heavy shelling.
Rebels also intercepted troops on the outskirts of Khan Sheikhun, south of Maaret al-Numan, where intense clashes erupted even as warplanes bombed rebel zones, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.
“If the rebels, who already have Maarat al-Numan and Saraqeb, take Khan Sheikhun, they will completely isolate regime troops in Aleppo because redeployments will not be able to arrive,” Rami Abdel Rahman of the UK-based opposition watchdog group said.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, urged the Syrian regime on Tuesday to declare an immediate truce to bring an end to the conflict that he said had left 20,000 dead over the last 19 months.
“It is unbearable for the [Syrian] people to continue like this. That is why I have conveyed to the Syrian government [a] strong message that they should immediately declare a unilateral ceasefire.”
Ban urged “the opposition forces to agree to this unilateral ceasefire when and if the Syrian government declares it” and he called on countries supplying arms to either side to stop in order to ease the suffering of the Syrian people.
Separately, General Necdet Ozel,Turkey’s top military commander, gave warning of a tougher response if Syria keeps hitting Turkish soil, as he visited the town of Akcakale, where cross-border shelling killed five civilians last week.
“We have retaliated [for Syrian shelling] and if it continues, we’ll respond more strongly,” Ozel said as he inspected Turkish troops on a tour of the heavily fortified border zone.
Following the deadly shelling in Akcakale on Wednesday of last week, Turkey’s parliament approved the use of military force if necessary against Syria.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish prime minister, has also asked Syria not to test Turkey’s patience.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary-general, cautioned on Wednesday against escalation along the frontier, and said the alliance has “all necessary plans in place to protect and to defend Turkey if necessary”.