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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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"The Syrian people will go out tomorrow and it will be the biggest possible (demonstration) so that the Syrian people can express their will," Burhan Ghalioun told Reuters by telephone.

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"We will see tomorrow if (the government) will keep its commitment. While we call on the Syrian people to protest strongly... we ask them to be cautious because the regime will not respect the ceasefire and will shoot," Ghalioun said.

The New York Times reports that Syria remains under a "state of alert" and that there were signs that the days preceding the cease-fire had been especially violent.

But the official SANA news agency, quoting “an official source” at the ministry, said that, having “enforced the authority of the state on all its territories,” the “armed forces will be on alert to confront any attack by armed terrorist groups against civilians, law-enforcement members, the armed forces and private and public facilities.”

The continuing state of alert seemed to corroborate assertions by opponents of Mr. Assad that government forces had not pulled back from forward positions in some areas. Additionally, the official assertion that the army had spread state authority across the land seemed to reflect the ferocity of an onslaught in the days leading to the truce, during which activists reported scores killed.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Agence France-Presse that the military launched a fierce assault against opposition strongholds in the hours before the cease-fire went into effect. 

Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, said that Assad actually ramped up violence in the days between committing to Annan's plan on April 1 and the beginning of the cease-fire. "[Assad's] commitments therefore have little, if any, credibility ... given that track record," she said, according to AFP. Al Jazeera reports that at least 360 people were killed in the intervening days and that Turkey saw the rate of refugees entering the country double.

AFP reports that at a meeting of the foreign ministers of the G8 countries in Washington yesterday, Britain and France called for monitors on the ground to reinforce the cease-fire, echoing the request from Syrian National Council chief Burhan Ghalioun for international monitors "as soon as possible."

Annan will be briefing the UN Security Council today on Syria's compliance with his peace plan.

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