A ceasefire in Syria appeared to be holding on Thursday, as the Syrian government and its foes traded charges of trying to wreck U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan.
Renewed bloodshed on Thursday killed at least 23 people, putting to the test the hard-won ceasefire plan.
The Local Coordination Committees, the main activist group spurring protests on the ground, said security forces killed nine people in Homs, six in Idlib, five in Damascus' countryside and two in Aleppo.
The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said earlier on Thursday that regime forces killed three civilians and arrested dozens more in defiance of its undertaking to Annan to halt all military operations and withdraw troops from towns and cities by 6 am (0300 GMT).
The SNC said the epicenter of Thursday's bloodshed was the flashpoint central region of Hama, long a focus of dissent to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Spokeswoman Basma Qoudmani called for peaceful demonstrations across Syria to test the government's readiness to accept public shows of dissent. "The real test will be if there is shooting or not when people demonstrate," she said.
State media charged that it was the opposition who were jeopardizing the long-awaited truce, accusing rebel fighters of bombing a bus ferrying troops to their base in Syria's second-largest city Aleppo.
"An armed terrorist group used an explosive device to target a bus transporting officers and non-commissioned officers to their unit in Aleppo. It killed a lieutenant colonel" and wounded 24 others, state news agency SANA said.
The interior ministry urged tens of thousands of people who fled the violence both inside and outside the country to return home and offered an amnesty to opposition gunmen without "blood on their hands."
The rebel Free Syrian Army, for its part, insisted it was "100 percent committed" to the ceasefire in a conflict which monitors say has killed more than 10,000 people since March last year.
"The regime is being elusive. We are 100 percent committed to the ceasefire, but the regime is not abiding by it," FSA spokesman Colonel Qassem Saadeddine told Agence France Presse by Internet.
Saadeddine denied any involvement in the attack on the bus, dismissing the report as regime propaganda "to avoid fulfilling its commitment."
Among Syria's allies, China welcomed the regime's decision to uphold a "comprehensive ceasefire" describing it as a step towards a political solution. Russia called for more time.
Hours before the deadline expired, the military unleashed a lethal offensive against protest centers, killing 25 civilians on Wednesday, including 10 in the rebel stronghold of Rastan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Assad's regime had intensified violence since it first committed to Annan's six-point plan on April 1.
"Its commitments therefore have little, if any, credibility ... given that track record," Rice said.
Annan's plan calls for the withdrawal of forces from urban areas, a halt to fighting, a daily two-hour humanitarian truce, the release of arbitrarily detained people, freedom of movement for journalists and the right to demonstrate.
SNC chief Burhan Ghalioun urged the international community to "monitor its implementation in full, mainly the right to demonstrate... and to provide the means to protect the people if the regime violates the plan."
"International observers should be on the ground as soon as possible," he said.
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