Fierce clashes between government troops and rebel forces in Syria continued Tuesday as the United Nations moved to send a team to Damascus to discuss the deployment of peace monitors in the country.
Syrian activists and rights groups say shelling erupted in several areas, including Homs. In Idlib province, heavy fighting took place on the outskirts of the town of Taftanaz. Several deaths were reported nationwide.
Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, announced Tuesday that an advance U.N. team is due to arrive in Syria within 48 hours. He told VOA the team would work out the details of deploying international monitors to the country.
Meanwhile, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, is in Damascus in a bid to arrange a two-hour humanitarian cease-fire in areas where fighting continues. An ICRC spokesman, Saleh Dabbakeh, said the organization has made progress recently in reaching victims of fighting and refugees that have become displaced inside Syria.
Syrian state-run media said Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem pledged cooperation with the relief group.
The diplomatic efforts came a day after Mr. Annan said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had agreed to begin pulling his forces out of opposition protest hubs and complete the pullout by April 10.
Watch related video of violence in Syria
Middle East Institute scholar Wayne White told VOA a possible peacekeeping deployment and promises of a cease-fire from the Syrian leader are not necessarily indications that government's crackdown on dissent is ending. "What we could see is deployment of observers and, as with the case of the Arab League observers, the observers leaving with dismay because their presence was not apparently meaning anything, especially to the Syrian government," he said.
White also said he does not expect Assad to change his stance against the opposition. "Unfortunately, this is going to be a fight to the finish. I think that Assad will not leave office unless he is driven from office and he will not stop hammering the opposition until the opposition gives up, if it ever does. It is to some degree a slugging match," he said.
The cease-fire proposal is part of a peace plan drafted by Mr. Annan last month and later endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began 13 months ago.
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