BEIRUT — Under intense pressure from Arab states, Syria has signed a pact to pull its armed forces from the streets, release political prisoners and engage with opposition groups after seven months of unrest that has ravaged the strategically situated nation and unsettled the entire region.
On the surface, the move appears to be a major concession from an increasingly isolated President Bashar Assad, who has been the target of international condemnation and sanctions squeezing his nation's economy.
But some of Assad's opponents question whether the agreement signals a true change in attitude to the uprising, or is simply an effort to buy time for his regime.
The deal, brokered by the Arab League, was announced late Wednesday in Cairo after talks between ministers from Syria and other Arab nations. The Syrian government's crackdown has angered fellow Arab nations, many of which face their own internal pressure for reform.
"We are happy to have reached this agreement, and we will be even happier when it is implemented immediately," said Qatar's foreign minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al Thani.
A leading Syrian activist, Razan Zeitouna, said via email from Damascus that she had "no illusion" that the deal would mean an end to violence.
Huge demonstrations are expected in coming days, she said.
The Obama administration, which reiterated its call for Assad to step down, reacted cautiously to news of the deal, saying it would need to see evidence that Assad intends to follow through on promises because he has not done so in the past.
LIBYA URGED TO SECURE WEAPONS: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon urged Libya's new leaders Wednesday to quickly secure chemical weapons, nuclear materials and shoulder-fired missiles, some of which have been left unguarded during the eight-month civil war that toppled Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
YEMEN CLASHES KILL 9: Government forces clashed with opposition fighters in central Yemen on Wednesday, killing at least nine members of the pro-opposition militia and civilians, a medical official said.
Abdel-Raziq al-Gabri, a field hospital doctor, said security forces randomly shelled several neighborhoods in Taiz, where pro-opposition fighters had taken over a government building.
TUNISIAN WOMEN DEMONSTRATE: Some 200 women demonstrated Wednesday in Tunis in defense of their rights, after the election victory of an Islamist party.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, however, has promised to protect women's rights, including the personal status code, which makes women equal to men in divorce and bars polygamy.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.