Syria accepts cease-fire plan, but violence continues

QAA, Lebanon — Syria accepted a cease-fire drawn up by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan on Tuesday, but the diplomatic breakthrough was swiftly overshadowed by intense clashes between government soldiers and rebels that sent bullets flying into Lebanon.

Opposition members accuse President Bashar Assad of agreeing to the plan to stall for time as his troops make a renewed push to kill off bastions of dissent. The United Nations said the death toll has grown to more than 9,000.

Annan's announcement that Syria had accepted his peace plan was met with deep skepticism. "We are not sure if it's political maneuvering or a sincere act," said Louay Safi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council.

Annan's plan calls for an immediate, two-hour halt in fighting every day to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations. Annan's plan also outlines a complete cease-fire, but that will take more time because Syria must first move troops and equipment out of cities and towns, government forces and the divided opposition must stop fighting, and a U.N.-supervised monitoring mission must be established.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Assad must now act. "Given Assad's history of overpromising and under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate action," she told reporters in Washington.

Russia and China have twice shielded Assad from U.N. sanctions over his crackdown, saying U.N. statements blamed only the government. Syria is Moscow's last remaining ally in the Middle East and is a major customer for Russia's arms industry.

Annan, who is an envoy for the U.N. and the Arab League, said in Beijing on Tuesday that China has offered its "full support" for his mission.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, offered Assad unequivocal support, echoing Assad's charge that rebels are acting out a Western conspiracy.

The situation on the ground remained as bloody as ever. There were conflicting reports about whether Syrian troops physically crossed the border into Lebanon during heavy fighting near a rural area around the Lebanese village of Qaa.

The Associated Press said it was told by two Lebanese security officials that only bullets crossed the frontier, but that two witnesses in Qaa said they saw dozens of troops enter Lebanon, apparently chasing Syrian rebels. One witness said the Syrian troops burned several homes.

Syria accepts cease-fire plan, but violence continues 03/27/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 12:25am]

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