Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks with residents during a visit to the… (Syrian Arab News Agency )
Syria on Tuesday agreed to a peace plan put forward by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but fighting raged on between government forces and rebels, officials and activists said.
Some Syrian opposition figures said they held out little hope for the peace plan, which they said did not address their principal demand: the resignation of President Bashar Assad.
Assad agreed to the six-point plan, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, in a letter to Annan, an envoy of the United Nations and Arab League.
The plan calls for talks between the opposition and the regime in an "inclusive Syrian-led political process," a cease-fire and troop withdrawal; humanitarian assistance in areas affected by the fighting; the release of those who have been arbitrarily detained; free access for journalists; and respect for "freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully."
Annan said the plan is "an important initial step that could bring an end to the violence and the bloodshed, provide aid to the suffering, and create an environment conducive to a political dialogue."
He emphasized that "implementation will be key, not only for the Syrian people, who are caught in the middle of this tragedy, but also for the region and the international community as a whole."
Some members of the political and armed opposition groups, which are scattered and don't speak with one voice, remained skeptical of the Assad's government commitment to peace.
Ausama Monajed, spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Council, said he believed that Assad's agreement was a stalling tactic aimed at allowing the regime to stay in power and quell the uprising.
"Will he pull the snipers and the tanks and the helicopters from the cities and towns? Does that mean he will release all the political prisoners?" Monajed said. "We've all seen these promises before, lots and lots of empty promises."
Opposition figures said that the likely failure of the peace plan to stop the Syrian government's crackdown may increase pressure on Russia and China, which have vetoed U.N. measures condemning Assad.
Mohammad, an activist from Duma reached via Skype, said the peace plan lacks important elements such as demands that Assad step down and that he face charges at the International Criminal Court.
"We say we want a trial to punish the killers," he said, requesting that his full name not be used for safety reasons. "Only today five people were killed in Duma. About what type of cease-fire are they talking about? The regime is just buying time."
The skepticism stems in part from the failure of the previous peace plan, put forth by the Arab League, that Assad agreed to in November. The president agreed to release detainees, withdraw tanks and armored vehicles from cities and hold a dialogue with the opposition. He also agreed to allow monitors into the country.
But the presence of monitors did little to quell the crackdown, and in January the Arab League mission was suspended because of the escalation of violence.
Since then the death toll has continued to rise. The U.N. said the yearlong conflict has claimed the lives of 9,000 rebels and civilians.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency and pro-government Addounia TV reported that Assad visited the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs, which witnessed heavy fighting before government troops drove rebels out early this month. Most residents fled to other areas of Homs or other cities.
"Mr. President Bashar Assad visited this morning Baba Amr district in the province of Homs and toured the streets to see the systematic damages of residential buildings, infrastructure, institutions, conducted at the hands of armed terrorist groups," the news agency said.
Clashes between rebels and regime soldiers spilled into neighboring Lebanon on Tuesday, when bullets struck around the Lebanese village of Qaa, the Associated Press reported. Lebanese officials reportedly said that no Syrian troops crossed into Qaa, though some witnesses said soldiers did enter Lebanon.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Assad should show that he is serious about peace by stopping the fighting and allowing humanitarian aid.
Special correspondent Marrouch reported from Beirut..