Blasts after Syria accepts peace plan
Beirut - Syrian government forces kept up heavy weapons fire and siege tactics against opposition strongholds on Wednesday despite President Bashar Assad's acceptance of a peace plan calling for the army to withdraw to its barracks, activists said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported military action against towns and villages from the southern province of Deraa to the Hama region 320km to the north.
Shelling was also reported in parts of Homs, Syria's third largest city, where Assad on Tuesday toured the devastated streets of a rebel bastion overrun by his troops earlier this month after weeks of bombardment.
"Military forces accompanied by dozens of armoured vehicles stormed the town of Qalaat al-Madiq and nearby villages [in Hama]," the activist website reported. "This comes after weeks of heavy gun and mortar fire and several failed attempts to invade the town."
"The regime has been shelling our town for 18 days, they are destroying our ancient fort," said one activist calling himself Abu Dhafer. "Thousands of people have fled and nearby villagers have gone to homes in safe areas. They are cramming people into their homes, a dozen to a room, men women and children."
"The rebels have left the town, it is surrounded and being shelled and we don't have enough weapons to fight back."
Syria has accepted a UN-sponsored peace plan calling for the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from cities ahead of peace talks between Assad and his opponents, special envoy Kofi Annan said on Tuesday.
The United States, Germany and other Western powers greeted the news with scepticism, saying they would wait and see what Assad actually did, rather than take his word for it.
"We will judge Assad's sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says," said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling on him to order his forces to start withdrawing from populated areas.
Annan, who represents the United Nations and the Arab League, said getting Assad's agreement in principle to his six-point peace framework was an important first step but implementing it "is going to be a long difficult task."
Annan's plan calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centres, for humanitarian assistance to be allowed in unimpeded, for the release of prisoners, freedom of movement and access for journalists to go in and out.