Syria 'agrees' to troops deadline
International envoy Kofi Annan has told the UN Security Council that Syria informed him its military will complete the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from populated areas by April 10.
US Ambassador Susan Rice said Mr Annan received a letter from Syria's foreign minister on Sunday with the April 10 date and indicated he would have preferred an earlier deadline.
She said Mr Annan urged the Syrian government to start the withdrawal immediately and move no further into populated areas, and "that commitment was provided".
Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'fari said the April 10 deadline was set "by common accord" between Mr Annan and the Syrian government, and he again pledged his government's complete support for Mr Annan's six-point plan to end the year-long Syrian crisis.
But Ms Rice, the current Security Council president, expressed scepticism about Syria's commitment, saying that Damascus has made and broken promises over many months.
"We have seen commitments to end the violence followed by massive intensifications of violence," she said. "So the United States, for one, would look at these commitments and say, yet again, the proof is the actions, not in the words."
She added: "Past experience would lead us to be sceptical and to worry that over the next several days rather than a diminution of the violence, we might, yet again, see an escalation of the violence. We certainly hope that is not so. We hope the Syrian authorities will implement the commitments they made without condition or codicils."
Mr Annan's plan to end Syria's crisis calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops and heavy military equipment from populated areas, followed by an overall ceasefire - first by government forces, then opposition fighters - and an immediate daily two-hour halt to fighting so humanitarian aid can reach civilians..
Ms Rice stressed that the Syrian agreement was just on the pull-out of troops and equipment from cities and towns. She said Mr Annan is expecting details from the Syrian government "very shortly" on the other aspects of the plan.
One of the key issues is trying to unite the many different opposition factions under a single umbrella. Ms Rice said Mr Annan's deputy, Nasser Al-Kidwa, has had "constructive exchanges with the opposition to urge them to cease their operations within 48 hours of a complete cessation of government hostilities".