In this photo released by the official website of the Iranian President's office, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, welcomes Faisal Mekdad, special envoy of Syrian President Bashar Assad, at the start of their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, March 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Arman Teimour)
QAA, Lebanon -- Syria accepted a cease-fire drawn up by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan on Tuesday, but the diplomatic breakthrough was swiftly overshadowed by intense clashes between government soldiers and rebels that sent bullets flying into Lebanon.
Opposition members accuse President Bashar Assad of agreeing to the plan to stall for time as his troops make a renewed push to kill off bastions of dissent. And the conflict just keeps getting deadlier: The U.N. said the death toll has grown to more than 9,000, a sobering assessment of a devastating year-old crackdown on the uprising that shows no sign of ending.
Annan's announcement that Syria had accepted his peace plan was met with deep skepticism.
"We are not sure if it's political maneuvering or a sincere act," said Louay Safi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council. "We have no trust in the current regime. ... We have to see that they have stopped killing civilians."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assad's decision to accept the plan was only a first step.
"We will continue to judge the Syrian regime by its practical actions, not by its often empty words," he said.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Assad must act quickly to convince the world he is serious about peace by "silencing his guns and allowing humanitarian aid to get in."
Annan's plan calls for an immediate, two-hour halt in fighting every day to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations. The plan also outlines a complete cease-fire, but that will take more time because Syria must first move troops and equipment out of cities and towns, government forces and the divided opposition must stop fighting, and a U.N.-supervised monitoring mission must be established.
Annan, who is an envoy for the U.N. and the Arab League, has traveled to Russia and China to shore up support for his peace plan. Russia and China have twice shielded Assad from U.N. sanctions over his crackdown, saying the statements were unbalanced and blamed only the government. Syria is Moscow's last remaining ally in the Middle East and is a major customer for Russia's arms industry, but the Kremlin has recently shown impatience with Assad.
In Beijing on Tuesday, Annan said China has offered its "full support" for his mission.
Despite the high-level diplomacy, the situation on the ground remained as bloody as ever.
There were conflicting reports about whether Syrian troops physically crossed the border into Lebanon during heavy fighting near a rural area around the Lebanese village of Qaa.