* Arab League leaders to push for action on Annan peace plan
* Fighting reported in Syrian cities, at least 15 killed
* Assad breaks ceasefire promise, to reject Arab initiatives
* Divided Syrian opposition reticent on peace plan
By Mariam Karouny and Suadad al-Salhy
BAGHDAD, March 29 Arab leaders pressed President
Bashar al-Assad to act quickly on a U.N.-backed peace plan he
has agreed to, having dropped their demand that he leave power,
as fighting between Syrian security forces and rebels killed at
least 15 people on Thursday.
"The solution for the crisis is still in the hands of the
Syrians as a government and opposition," Arab League
Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told Arab heads of state at a
summit meeting in Baghdad.
Pre-empting the summit, Damascus said on Wednesday it would
reject any initiative from the Arab League, w hich suspended
Syria in November, and would deal only with individual states.
But United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon kept up
pressure on Assad, saying he must turn his acceptance of the
six-point peace plan into action, to divert his country from a
"dangerous trajectory" with risks for the entire region.
"It essential that President Assad put those commitments
into immediate effect. The world is waiting for commitments to
be translated into action. The key here is implementation, there
is no time to waste," Ban told an Arab League Summit.
In Istanbul, Syrian opposition representatives met to try to
settle deep internal disputes before the arrival of Western
foreign ministers for a "Friends of Syria" conference on Sunday
to map out where the year-old uprising is heading.
BATTLES AND AMBUSHES
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which
monitors the violence, reported 13 civilians, fighters and
soldiers killed in clashes across the country.
In northern Hama province, an army convoy was ambushed and
two soldiers killed. In Idlib province three people died when
the army raided a rural area east of Maarat al-Nuaman.
In the city of Homs, three people were killed by army fire.
Two died when the army opened fire in villages near the border
with Lebanon and three were killed in clashes in rural districts
of northern Hama province, the Observatory said.
The state news agency SANA said two colonels were shot dead
in a morning attack in Aleppo, Syria's second city.
"Four terrorists shot Abdul Karim al-Rai and Fuad Shaaban
... while they were on their way to work," SANA said.
It said gunmen kidnapped Air Force General Mohammad Amr al
Darbas on his way to work in Damascus province.
Western powers have expressed scepticism about Assad's
acceptance of the peace plan. Russia has urged opposition groups
to endorse it as Damascus has done.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said
Assad "has not taken the necessary steps to implement" the peace
plan of Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General who is now
special Syria envoy for the U.N. and the Arab League.
Syria's big-power backers, Russia and China, have cranked up
the pressure on Assad by endorsing the Annan plan, with the
unspoken implication that if he fails to act on it, they may be
prepared to back action by the U.N. Security Council.
ARAB VIEWS DIFFER
Sunni powers Saudi Arabia and Qatar have led the push to
isolate Syria, suggesting arming Syria's opposition.
Arab states outside the Gulf, such as Algeria and
Shi'ite-led Iraq urge more caution, fearing that toppling Assad
could spark sectarian violence.
Annan's six-point plan calls for the withdrawal of heavy
weapons and troops from population centres, humanitarian
assistance, the release of prisoners and free movement and
access for journalists.
Diplomats say one of his ideas is for a U.N. observer
mission to monitor any eventual ceasefire, a mechanism likely to
require a U.N. Security Council mandate. An Arab League mission
last year failed to make any difference to the crisis.
The United Nations says Assad's forces have killed 9,000
people. Damascus blames foreign-backed "terrorists" for the
violence and says 3,000 soldiers and police have been killed.
As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed for Saudi
Arabia and later Turkey, to consult Gulf states and promote
unity in Syrian opposition ranks, there was no sign that
President Barack Obama was about to drop his hands-off approach.
Unless opposition splits are healed, there is little chance
that Assad's opponents can oust him without a military
intervention the West clearly does not want, and some analysts
are saying it is time force the opposition to talk to Assad.
The Obama administration's approach to the crisis will
continue to be "wary and slow-moving", said Michael O'Hanlon, a
military expert at the Brookings Institution.
"If Assad has reached a turning point and really made
headway against insurgents, I believe there is a good chance he
will 'win' without too much American pushback," O'Hanlon said.