Syria accepts peace plan but clashes continue

QAA, Lebanon (AP) — 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.

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U.N.- Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan arrives Tuesday at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for talks in Beijing, China.

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. And the conflict just keeps getting deadlier: The U.N. said the death toll has grown to more than 9,000, a sobering assessment of a devastating year-old crackdown on the uprising that shows no sign of ending.

Annan’s announcement 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. “We have no trust in the current regime. ... We have to see that they have stopped killing civilians.”

Annan’s plan calls for an immediate, two-hour halt in fighting every day to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations. The 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,” Clinton told reporters in Washington. “We will judge Assad’s sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says. If he is ready to bring this dark chapter in Syria’s history to a close, he could prove it by immediately ordering regime forces to stop firing and begin withdrawing from populated areas.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assad’s decision was only a first step.

“We will continue to judge the Syrian regime by its practical actions, not by its often empty words,” he said.

Annan, who is an envoy for the U.N. and the Arab League, has traveled to Russia and China to shore up support for his peace plan. Russia and China have twice shielded Assad from U.N. sanctions over his crackdown, saying the statements were unbalanced and 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, but the Kremlin has recently shown impatience with Assad.

In Beijing on Tuesday, Annan said China has offered its “full support” for his mission.

In contrast, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered Assad unequivocal support.

“I’m very happy that Syrian authorities are managing the situation with confidence,” the official Iranian news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. He echoed Assad’s charge that rebels are acting out a Western conspiracy. “Americans want to dominate Syria, Lebanon, Iran and all other countries through the false slogan of defending the freedom of the (Syrian) people, and we must be alert toward their conspiracy,” he said. Iran is one of Syria’s last true allies.

Despite the high-level diplomacy, 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.

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