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UN orders immediate Syria cease-fire: 'The deadline is now'

Syrian President Bashar Assad must order a cease-fire immediately, a spokesman for UN chief envoy Kofi Annan said Friday, telling reporters: "The deadline is now".

"We expect him to implement this plan immediately," Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for Anna, told a news briefing in Geneva, adding that Assad should not wait for opposition groups to make the first move.

Annan's peace 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.

For the first time since 1990, Arab League countries meet in Iraq's capital, but only half of the members showed up to discuss a UN proposal for Syria. NBC's Duncan Golestani reports.

"If you read the agreement...it specifically asks the government to withdraw its troops, to cease using heavy weapons in populated centers. 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.

Report: Syria is torturing children, UN human rights chief says

He added that Annan would soon visit Iran to discuss Syria peace proposals, although no date for the trip has been set.

Annan has already been to Cairo, Ankara, Doha, Beijing and Moscow to try and secure international agreement on how to deal with Assad.

Britain pledges $800,000 to Syria opposition to topple Assad regime

The comments come ahead of a 70-nation summit in Istanbul on Sunday, to be attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, which aims to consolidate international backing for Syria opposition groups.

Britain on Thursday became the first western country to pledge a specific sum of financial support for non-military opposition groups in Syria, offering $800,000 to be spent on communications and human rights protections.

Reuters and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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