Fragile Cease-Fire Survives First Day In Syria

A cease-fire went into effect at dawn in Syria on Thursday, but there have already been some violations. Syrian army snipers reportedly opened fire in Homs and incidents have been reported elsewhere in the country. For the most part, the army has stopped bombardments of cities and towns but troops and tanks remain in urban areas in violation of Kofi Annan's UN peace plan.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. In Syria today, a fragile ceasefire largely held, despite violations on both sides. Opposition activists reported sniper attacks and several deaths while the government reported a bus bomb that killed a soldier and wounded dozens.

SIEGEL: Despite this, today in Syria was, by most accounts, far more peaceful than yesterday or the day before, and that's a start. In a moment, diplomatic reaction to the day's events, but first, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul on how day one of the truce unfolded.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: For activist Abu Abdul Al-Homsi, who lives in the embattled central city of Homs, the 6:00 a.m. dawn of the ceasefire arranged by Special Envoy Kofi Annan was swiftly followed by the more familiar sound of mortars exploding and sniper fire.

ABU ABDUL AL-HOMSI: The shelling by rocket has stopped, but the shelling by mortar bombs and the snipers and the armored vehicles is still continuous on the city. We have until now six casualties, we could recognize them. But was have also other casualties that we couldn't pull them out yet because of the snipers. They are everywhere and they're shooting everything that moves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING AND GUNSHOTS)

KENYON: A YouTube video said to be posted from Homs this morning showed bullets striking a concrete wall as the cameraman shouted in a mix of bravado and fear. It was one of several videos appearing to show continued military attacks despite the ceasefire. And in central cities such as Homs and Hama, and in Idlib to the north, there was no sign of tanks pulling back, as the Annan peace proposal calls for. The government had its own claims of violations, most dramatically an attack on a bus carrying soldiers in Aleppo.

The official Sanaa a news agency attributed the attack to an armed terrorist group using the regime's preferred description of opposition fighters. The agency also reported a roadside bomb in Idlib province that wounded a number of security men. The commercial center of Aleppo had been quiet early in the year-long uprising, but that has been changing. At a funeral today for a teenager killed in earlier clashes, anti-regime chants turned to panic as shots rang out.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

KENYON: Activists who attended the funeral said the gunfire came from security forces who opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. But with most foreign journalists still barred from Syria, independent confirmation of that claim was impossible. Pro-government analysts, meanwhile, speculated that the shooting may have been a provocation by opposition forces or foreigners. Ammar Waqqaff is with the pro-government Syria Social Club in London.

AMMAR WAQQAF: Who's shooting? We don't know. It may very well be someone who's trying to destabilize this whole peace plan who's doing all this. And we know that there are people who might be very much interested in, you know, showing the Syrian government is really lacking credibility and so on.

KENYON: Anti-regime activists say the confusion on the ground is all the more reason to permit journalists, humanitarian aid crews and international observers into Syria immediately. Wissam Tarif with the human rights group Abbas told al-Jazeera's English channel that the government's refusal to send the troops back to the barracks, as Kofi Annan is demanding, signals more bloodshed ahead, perhaps as early as tomorrow.

WISSAM TARIF: The timing is not for the best interests of the Syrian regime. Tomorrow is Friday. Tomorrow, people are going to protest. And the big question remains, what is al-Assad going to do? The troops are on the ground. The tanks are there. They are ready to shoot. Their security forces have shot and killed four people today. How would they react when people are protesting?

KENYON: Despite the violence reported today, Syrians say it was quieter than it has been in some time, with a much lower estimated death toll. How to maintain or even improve compliance with the ceasefire will be a difficult and crucial task in the days ahead. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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