GENEVA (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must order a ceasefire without waiting for the opposition to make the first move under a peace plan proposed by international envoy Kofi Annan, Annan's spokesman said on Friday.
"We expect him to implement this plan immediately," spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva. "The deadline is now".
Annan's proposal calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from cities and towns, humanitarian assistance, the release of prisoners and free movement and access for journalists. It does not hinge on Assad leaving office.
"If you read the agreement...it specifically asks the government to withdraw its troops, to cease using heavy weapons in populated centres. The very clear implication here is that the government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side and with the mediator," Fawzi said.
Asked if China and Russia had backed the call for the government forces to make the first move, Fawzi said they had explicitly backed all provisions of the six-point plan put forward by Anna, who is acting on the behalf of the United Nations and the Arab League.
"The rationale is very simple. We are appealing to the stronger party to make a gesture of good faith and stop the killing. We are certain that if that happens, the opposition will follow suit."
Annan's diplomatic drive has already taken him to Cairo, Ankara, Doha, Beijing and Moscow and he plans to visit Tehran and Riyadh too, Fawzi said. Annan's deputy has been to Baghdad and met representatives of Syria's opposition in Turkey.
There was no date yet set for the trip to Tehran, which was still being discussed with the Iranian authorities. Annan will also return to Syria "as soon as the time is right" but he has no plans to visit Israel, Fawzi said.
Assad said on Thursday that Syria would spare no effort to ensure the success of Annan's peace mission but that other countries must immediately stop funding and arming opposition groups.
Reporting by Tom Miles