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Uneasy Quiet Descends on Syria


Syrians chanting slogans during a demonstration in Idlib, Syria, April 12, 2012. (AP cannot independently verify the content, date, location or authenticity of this material.)

Some Syrian opposition leaders are calling for demonstrations to test the resolve of the government to abide by a United Nations-brokered cease-fire.

The challenge issued by the opposition Syrian National Council Thursday came just hours after an uneasy calm appeared to take hold across the country.

Council spokesman Fawaz Zakri was hopeful months of violence had finally come to an end but said it was time for protestors to again make their voices heard.

"If the Syrian regime indeed stop the killings and abides by the cease-fire then we think, we are sure, that the demonstrations will come back more powerful and it will cover all of Syria very nearly," he said.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA there have no reports of violence since the 6 a.m. local time cease-fire deadline.

Still, despite the calm, many Syrian refugees are skeptical.

One unidentified refugee staying on the Turkish side of the border said nothing from President Bashar al-Assad's government could be trusted.

"We do not trust in the words of Bashar Assad because he is a liar. His government is lying. All the countries know this," said the refugee.

Refugee Huseyin Kasif at the Yayladagi Refugee Camp in Turkey also dismissed Assad's intentions, accusing him of spewing "gibberish."

"This cease-fire will not stay long. He [Syrian President Assad] has been promising this for a year. I do not think he will withdraw neither tanks nor troops. He is lying. Whenever he says he will end the massacre, he kills more,'' he said.

The deal set out by U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan aims to end 13 months of violence and bloodshed. Syria's government promised to comply with the truce. But it warned in a statement Wednesday its armed forces will remain on standby to retaliate against any attacks by armed terrorist groups against civilians or troops.

Opposition Syrian National Council member Bassam Imadi Thursday said he was not certain the cease-fire would hold. And he said, if it did, it could only be a first step.

"There should be some kind of dialogue. In our mind, the dialogue should be about the transition phase after Assad steps down. So this could be the second step,'' he said.

President Assad has refused to step down in the face of growing international pressure. In a statement Wednesday, Syria said the army had successfully fought off "armed terrorist groups" and has "reasserted the state's rule across the country."

The deal also calls for opposition forces to stop fighting.

The Obama administration Wednesday called on Damascus to match its words with deeds.

At a meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed alarm at the ongoing violence in Syria, and concern about the problems facing special envoy Kofi Annan in his efforts to bring about a cease-fire and an end to the violence.

White House spokesman Jay Carney cautioned that President Bashar al-Assad's regime has reneged on promises to stop the violence in the past.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Syria's promise to halt hostilities by Thursday cannot be construed as complying with Annan's six-point peace plan. She said nothing casts more doubt on the credibility of the commitments than the fact that, in her words, "commitments have been made and made, and broken and broken and broken."

The United States and its Western partners have pressed for stronger action against Syria for months but have been hindered by Russian and Chinese opposition to what those two nations call outside interference in Syria.

Russia said Wednesday that since the Syrian government had pledged to halt its offensive on Thursday, it is now the armed opposition's turn to do the same.

U.N. officials say more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began 13 months ago.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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