Syria: Opposition protests will test uncertain truce
The opposition plans broad protests tomorrow in an effort to call attention to ongoing abuses in the country.
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"We're encouraged that we do now have a cessation of violence in Syria," Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said. "We hope it holds. Everybody needs to behave with maximum prudence for that to happen."Skip to next paragraph
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"Frankly, there is one thing which Mr. Annan, I hope, is going to accomplish very soon — clear-cut agreement by opposition leaders to enter into dialogue with the Syrian government," Churkin added. "This so far has not happened."
There were signs of how easily the Annan plan could fray.
In the hours after the 6 a.m. deadline, at least four civilians were reported killed — three of them by sniper fire — and the state-run news agency said "terrorist groups" set off a roadside bomb that killed a soldier. But there was no sign of the heavy shelling, rocket attacks and sniper fire that have become routine.
Troops also intensified searches at checkpoints, tightening controls ahead of possible large-scale protests Friday.
Although Syria promised to comply with the cease-fire, the regime carved out an important condition — that it still has a right to defend itself against the terrorists that it says are behind the rebellion.
The government denies that it is facing a popular uprising. Instead, the regime says, terrorists are carrying out a foreign conspiracy to destroy Syria. Because the regime has treated any sign of dissent as a provocation, many observers fear that an abrupt end to the bloodshed will be all but impossible.
In the early days of the Syrian rebellion, Syrian forces used tanks, snipers and machine guns on peaceful protesters, driving many of them to take up arms. Since then, the uprising has transformed into an armed insurgency, with more and more protesters taking up arms and rebels forming a fighting force to bring down the regime.
The rebel Free Syrian Army, made up largely of army defectors, has said it will observe the cease-fire. But the opposition is not well-organized, and there are growing fears of groups looking to exploit the chaos.
Western powers have pinned their hopes on Annan's plan, in part because they are running out of options. NATO-style military intervention has been all but ruled out, in part because the conflict is so explosive. Syria has had a web of allegiances to powerful forces including Lebanon's Hezbollah and Shiite powerhouse Iran, and conflict could spark a regional conflagration.
With Thursday's relative ease in violence, many see a U.N. observer team as a key next step.
"It is difficult to fully assess the situation on the ground, in the absence of U.N. observers," Ban told reporters. "And therefore we are working with the Security Council to send an observer team as promptly as possible."