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Assad promised on Thursday to “spare no effort” to make sure Annan’s plan succeeds. But he demanded that armed forces battling his regime commit to halt violence as well.

Makdessi claimed the military is in populated areas “in a state of self defense and protecting civilians.”

“The Syrian army is not happy to be present in residential areas,” Makdessi said. “Once peace and security prevail in these areas, the army will not stay nor wait for Kofi Annan to leave. This is a Syrian matter.”

For the U.S. and its allies, Syria is proving an especially murky conflict with no easy solutions. Assad’s regime is one of Washington’s toughest foes, a government that has long been closely allied with Iran and anti-Israel groups Hamas and Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers terrorist.

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 regime is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while the opposition is Sunni dominated.

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 in Turkey Sunday 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.”

Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the most impatient and have spoken about possible military intervention, from arming Syria’s badly overmatched rebels to creating safe zones from which the rebels can operate.

Washington remains opposed to arming the rebels, fearing a military escalation could lead to all-out civil war and play into Assad’s hands, considering his vastly more powerful military.

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.

Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said Syrian troops foiled an infiltration attempt by gunmen from Lebanon into a village near the western town of Talkalakh. SANA said troops confiscated weapons and killed and wounded some of the infiltrators as others fled back into Lebanon.

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