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Syria accepts UN envoy's peace plan but bloodshed persists as clashes spill into Lebanon
BEIRUT (AP) ' Syria has accepted a peace plan by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan that includes a cease-fire by the Syrian government, but the bloodshed persisted as intense clashes between government troops and rebel fighters spilled across the border into Lebanon, officials said.
Syrian troops did not physically cross the border, according to two Lebanese security officials, but bullets whizzed across the frontier into a rural, sparsely populated area.
"There is no Syrian military presence on the Lebanese side of the border," the military official said.
The U.N. says more than 8,000 people have been killed in Syria's uprising, which began last March with mostly peaceful protests against the regime. But the government swiftly unleashed its military tanks, snipers and machine-guns to break up protests, which many opposition members say drove them to take up arms.
Now, as the conflict spirals toward civil war, there are concerns that the bloodshed could cause a regional conflagration by pulling in neighboring countries.
A diplomatic push to end the crisis has largely failed, but Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for Annan, said Tuesday that the Syrian government has accepted the envoy's six-point plan to end the bloodshed. The plan includes a cease-fire and inclusive talks about a political solution.
Syrian opposition member reacted with skepticism, however.
Rami Jarah, who was attending an opposition meeting Tuesday in Turkey, said President Bashar Assad is trying to stall for time.
"The Syrian government is going to depend on propaganda as it has over the past few months ' propaganda of armed terrorists," he said. The government denies that there is a popular uprising in the country, saying the revolt is being driven by terrorists.
Also Tuesday, Assad visited Baba Amr, a former rebel stronghold in the key city of Homs that became a symbol of the uprising after a monthlong siege by government forces killed hundreds of people ' many of them civilians ' as troops pushed out rebel fighters.
Homs has been one of the cities hardest hit by the government crackdown on the uprising that began last March. Assad's forces overran the rebel-held Baba Amr on March 1 but faced resistance from other districts.
Assad's visit was reported on Syria's state-run news agency, SANA. There were no further details.
The violent conflict in Syria has posed a serious challenge to Assad, but neither side has shown any sign of giving in. The opposition, riven by differences, has failed to present a united front against Assad, which has added to the chaos.
Syrian opposition leaders were meeting in Istanbul on Tuesday in an attempt to resolve their differences and reassure international backers who are frustrated by the lack of cohesion.
The meeting comes ahead of an April 1 conference in Istanbul at which Turkey, the United States and their European and Arab partners will discuss ways to further isolate and pressure Assad, as well as measures to support the Syrian opposition. Some reports indicate that the debate among dozens of countries will include whether the opposition Syrian National Council and affiliated groups should be declared as the sole, legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that "if the majority of participants choose that, we'll do that."