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Syria pledges truce if rebels hold fire

Syria promised to observe a U.N.-backed ceasefire starting on Thursday, but its forces kept up fierce...

World

Syria promised to observe a U.N.-backed ceasefire starting on Thursday, but its forces kept up fierce attacks on opposition neighbourhoods in the hours before the deadline.

A Syrian defence ministry source quoted on state television on Wednesday said the army would halt operations on Thursday morning, but would confront "any assault" by armed groups.

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said the Syrian government had also assured him it would stop fighting by the dawn deadline he has set for a cessation of hostilities.

It agreed "to cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) tomorrow, Thursday, 12 April, 2012, while reserving the right to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups against civilians, government forces or public and private property", Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in a statement, quoting a letter from the Syrian Foreign Ministry.

Russia, a powerful defender of President Bashar al-Assad against Western and Arab pressure, said the rebels battling to oust him must honour the ceasefire too.

Insurgents, who lack a clearly coordinated command structure, have previously said they will stop shooting if Syrian forces pull back and observe the truce as promised. But few in the Syrian opposition believe Assad has any intention of complying with Annan's plan to end 13 months of bloodshed.

"Annan, this is your ceasefire," ran the sarcastic voiceover on an activist video that showed a shopping mall engulfed in flames after it was hit in bombardment of the Juret al-Shayah district of Homs. Sniper fire cracked out in the background.

At least 12 people were killed on Wednesday, activists said.

Western powers, too, have scorned Assad's truce pledges, but so far lack an effective policy to curb the bloodshed, given their own aversion to military intervention and the resistance of Russia and China to any U.N. Security Council action.

"Far from fulfilling their commitment, the regime has cynically exploited the window of diplomatic negotiations to crack down even harder on its own people," British Prime Minister David Cameron said during a visit to Indonesia.

MORTAR BARRAGE

Activist videos posted on YouTube showed bombs crashing into the Khalidiya district of Homs.

Spouts of pulverised debris burst high into the air with each impact and plumes of dust and smoke drifted over the rooftops. The videos could not be verified and the Syrian government bars most independent media from the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said three people were killed in Homs. Shelling killed a man, woman and child in Qusair near the border with Lebanon.

Three people were killed near Damascus, the British-based opposition group said.

"Mortar fire started at 7 this morning. I can hear one explosion every five minutes," said activist Waleed al-Fares in Homs, where bombardment killed at least 26 people on Tuesday.

If Assad fails to respect a ceasefire, the world should unite against him, using an arms embargo and other sanctions, the main opposition group said, hours before the truce deadline.

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