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Syria violence raises concerns Assad is only buying time with UN cease-fire deal

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Local Coordination Committees in Syria/AP

(Read caption) In this Tuesday, March 27, citizen journalism image, black smoke rises from buildings in Homs, Syria. Three Syrian soldiers died in clashes with rebels in the central province of Homs on Wednesday, an activist group said, just a day after President Bashar al-Assad said he has accepted a UN peace plan to resolve the country's crisis.

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The day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to a cease-fire plan proposed by UN envoy Kofi Annan, violence continued in key flashpoint cities, raising concerns that this could become yet another agreement that serves only to buy the regime time.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported military action in several cities, including Hama and Deraa, where the uprising began more than a year ago, Reuters reports. It also said there was shelling in the city of Homs, which Mr. Assad toured yesterday after his regime's brutal assault of the rebel stronghold last month.

IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria

In addition, three Syrian soldiers were killed in clashes with the opposition today in the province of Homs, according to the Associated Press, which cited the same human rights organization. The fighting broke out when the government troops tried to enter the opposition-controlled town of Rastan, it said.

Even before the violence, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed skepticism that the Assad regime would abide by the cease-fire agreement. "Given al-Assad's history of overpromising and underdelivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate actions," Mrs. Clinton said, according to CNN. "We will judge Assad's sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not what he says."

Mr. Annan acknowledged that while getting Assad’s agreement was an “important first step,” implementation would be “a long and difficult task,” according to Reuters.

His plan has six points: the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from populated areas, unimpeded access for humanitarian aid workers, the release of prisoners jailed during the uprising, freedom of movement and access for journalists, a political process between the government and opposition, and allowance of peaceful demonstrations.

Robert Grenier, former director of the CIA counterterrorism center, writes in a commentary for Al Jazeera that Annan’s plan merely helps Assad by buying him time to continue the crackdown.

... does anyone honestly think that the Syrian regime, committed as it is to a programme of violent intimidation and collective punishment, will provide "full humanitarian access", or a daily "humanitarian pause" for those whom it suspects of aiding its adversaries? What are the chances that the tender Mr Assad will release detainees who may promptly rejoin the struggle against him, or that he will permit foreign journalists to freely document his atrocities? Who would want to bet his life, or the lives of those dear to him, that Bashar and his generals will honour a ceasefire, or engage in good faith in a "political dialogue" with those who are challenging their power?

Pursuing such "solutions" is worse than feckless, for it forestalls other, potentially effective actions. By permitting the Syrian regime added time, it is morally equivalent to aiding and abetting Bashar al-Assad.

Such good as can be done in these circumstances will only be done by those who are willing to climb metaphorically into the ring, and to dirty themselves in the process of providing such assistance as is possible to the oppressed of Syria as they struggle to liberate themselves from an unspeakable regime. It will mean taking sides.

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