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Annan demands Assad ceasefire 'now'

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is urging the Syrian government to lay down its weapons first to immediately end the nation's crisis.

Annan is seeking support for his six-point peace plan for bringing an end to more than a year of violence in Syria that the UN says has killed more than 9,000 people.

"The government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side," said Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi. "We are appealing to the stronger party to make a gesture of good faith... The deadline is now."

Fawzi told reporters in Geneva that Annan believes Syrian President Bashar Assad must make the first move. "We expect him to implement this plan immediately," the spokesman said. "Clearly, we have not seen a cessation of hostilities and this is of great concern."

Syrian activists say fresh fighting erupted today between soldiers and rebel fighters in the country's northern Idlib province.

The fighting came a day after Assad said he will spare no effort to make Annan's peace plan a success, but demanded that armed opponents battling his regime commit to halting violence.

Assad says he wants an express promise from the opposition to stop attacks.

Annan is dispatching a deputy, Nasser El-Kidwa, to meet government opponents within the next several days and demand that they "lay down their arms and start talking," Fawzi said.

Annan is also arranging visits to "key countries in the region" such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, but no dates have been fixed yet.

The aim of Annan's visit is "to stress that this is the only plan in town" for resolving the crisis, the spokesman said.

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