Syria cease-fire takes hold, but could be tested by Friday protests (+video)
Although the Syrian regime flouted a deadline earlier this week, it seems to be abiding by the UN cease-fire that went into effect today.
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Reports from Syria today indicate that both the regime and opposition are so far adhering to the cease-fire that went into effect at 6 a.m. today, with headlines describing Syria as "quiet" and "calm."
Government troops are still defying the demands by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan to pull out of towns and cities, but they have stopped attacking opposition strongholds across the country. The calm comes as some vindication for Mr. Annan, who insisted earlier this week that his peace plan for Syria was not dead even as a deadline for Syrian troops to pull out of towns and cities passed with no action.
The international community remains deeply doubtful that the Syrian regime's compliance will last, particularly if large-scale protests resume, and seems skeptical the regime will accede to other demands made in Annan's plan.
The Associated Press reports that the plan is "widely seen as the last chance for diplomacy to end the 13-month-old uprising," which is "veering toward an armed insurgency." Some say the credit for today's progress goes to Russia and China, which backed Annan's plan after months of opposing any international action against the Syrian regime.
Analyst Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, said while the cease-fire is fragile, the apparent halt in government attacks suggests Assad's allies are pressuring him for the first time, after shielding him from international condemnation in the past. Annan has visited Russia, Iran and China in his attempt to get the broadest possible backing for the plan.
If the cease-fire holds long enough, it could encourage the opposition to resume protests in large numbers, "testing" the sincerity of the government's agreement to Annan's plan, Mr. Shaikh told AP. The regime responded brutally to previous protests and Assad has been unwilling to loosen his grip on opposition areas as that could lead to the reemergence of antigovernment demonstrations.
Fawaz Zakri, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Council, said the government has so far abided by the cease-fire. If calm were to prevail, "we are sure that the (anti-regime) demonstrations will come back more powerful and will cover all of Syria very nearly," he said.
What happens tomorrow could be a strong signal of regime and opposition intentions. The largest protests have often happened on Fridays, when worshipers leave the mosques after noon prayer. The head of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition body, called for sweeping protests tomorrow, Reuters reports.