The head of the opposition Syrian National Council urged people to demonstrate against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as a test of a ceasefire that came into effect at dawn on Thursday.
“We call on the people to demonstrate and express themselves, because the right to demonstrate is a principle point of the plan” of the U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan, Burhan Ghalioun told AFP hours after the truce took effect.
A ceasefire in Syria came into effect at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) in line with an ultimatum set by Annan aimed at ending violence that has killed thousands over more than a year.
Shortly after the ceasefire came into effect, the interior ministry said that Syrian gunmen “who do not have blood on their hands” should turn themselves in to police knowing they will be set free state TV reported.
Syria has pledged to bring an end to 13 months of bloodshed that has killed thousands, but Western powers voiced skepticism and prepared to up the pressure on Damascus.
Amid reports of persistent violence, Annan said he received a letter from Syria that promised to “cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory as of 6:00 am (0300 GMT).”
But the letter reserved the right “to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups,” a phrase used in the past by Assad’s government to describe opposition forces.
“An hour after the ultimatum expired, the situation is calm in all regions,” Rami Abdel Rahman, chairman of the Syrian Human Rights Observatory, told AFP.
A “few explosions” were heard in the town of Zabadani, just outside the capital, shortly after the ceasefire entered into effect, Abdel Rahman added.
“There has not been any movement indicating a withdrawal of tanks.”
Meanwhile, the opposition said there was no sign of compliance on the ground as regime forces pounded protest centers anew in violence that monitors said killed 14 civilians on Wednesday.
British Prime Minister David Cameron urged Russia and China on Thursday to join the international community and help “tighten the noose” on the Syrian regime over its deadly crackdown on protests.
“I feel an immense sense of frustration because the world has come together behind this Kofi Annan plan,” Cameron told BBC radio from Southeast Asia, where he is on a trade mission.
“This is a plan, remember, that is not just backed by those of us who have been pushing for action on Syria, it’s also backed by China and Russia. And yet Assad is deliberately flouting it.
“Now is the time to say to the Russians and Chinese, look at the man we are dealing with, look at the appalling way he is behaving. We need to go back to the UN and tighten the pressure, tighten the noose.”
His comments come after US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a telephone call that the UN Security Council, which backed Annan’s plan, needed to “take more resolute action” on Syria.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday that Britain would seek tougher sanctions and would also intensify its support for the Syrian opposition if government forces did not adhere to the ceasefire.
The United Nations says that more than 9,000 people have died since March 2011 as Assad’s forces crush the latest in a series of uprisings against authoritarian leaders in the Arab world. U.N. and U.S. officials have charged that Assad may have carried out crimes against humanity.
Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, said that Assad’s regime has in fact intensified violence since it first committed to Annan’s plan on April 1.
In Washington, foreign ministers of the Group of Eight major industrial powers met on Syria and other global crises, with both Britain and France pressing for monitors to verify any eventual ceasefire.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called for the U.N. Security Council to seek a “robust observers force” that would verify compliance and “could move freely” without interference from Assad’s regime.
Meanwhile, Moscow, which along with China vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions that would have tightened the screws on Assad, has championed the Annan peace plan but also sought pressure against the Syrian opposition
Russian Deputy Defence Minister Gennady Gatilov, writing on Twitter, said that after the Syrian government’s statement of support for a ceasefire “now it is the armed opposition’s turn ̶ those are the condition’s of Annan's plan.”
For his part, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said of Syria that “all violence in the country should be halted.”
On Wednesday, shots fired by Syrian forces hit a Syrian refugee camp just across the border with Turkey, Turkish media reported.
And in Jordan, an official from the interior ministry said the country now has 95,000 Syrian refugees who fled the conflict at home.