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Syrian peace deal, but war goes on

Syria has accepted a peace plan by UN envoy Kofi Annan that includes a government ceasefire, but the bloodshed has persisted as intense clashes between soldiers and rebels spilled across the border into Lebanon.

Any incursion into Lebanese territory would escalate a conflict over an uprising against president Bashar Assad's rule that already has caused regional tensions. As the conflict spirals toward civil war, there are concerns that the violence could cause a broader conflagration by pulling in neighbouring countries.

The UN, meanwhile, raised its death toll for the year-long conflict to more than 9,000.

The Syrian uprising, which began last March with mostly peaceful protests against the regime has turned increasingly militarised after the government unleashed its military tanks, snipers and machine-guns to break up protests, which many opposition members say drove them to take up arms.

A diplomatic push to end the crisis has largely failed, but a spokesman for Mr Annan said the Syrian government has accepted the envoy's six-point plan to end the bloodshed. The plan includes a ceasefire and inclusive talks about a political solution.

Syrian opposition members reacted with scepticism, however. Louay Safi, from the opposition Syrian National Council, said the regime has accepted other peace initiatives, but the violence always continues. "We are not sure if it's political manoeuvring or a sincere act," he said. "We have no trust in the current regime. We would like to see some practical steps. We have to see that they have stopped killing civilians."

Meanwhile Assad visited Baba Amr, a former rebel stronghold in the key city of Homs that became a symbol of the uprising after a month-long 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.

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 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.

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