U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has cautiously welcomed the news that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is accepting a deal brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to bring peace to the restive country.
"It is an important initial step that the Assad regime has written the United Nations to accept the Annan plan," she said on March 27, "Let me just pause here to say, however, that given Assad's history of over-promising and under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate actions. We will judge Assad's sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says."
Annan's aides have confirmed receiving a letter from Assad accepting the former UN Secretary-General's peace plan, which calls for an immediate end to the violence, humanitarian access to besieged areas, and the start of talks between the government and opposition.
Clinton warned Syria's opposition that they should be prepared "to clearly demonstrate" to all of Syria's people that they have a "unified position" and a "vision" that would guarantee and protect "the rights of all Syrians."
Syrian opposition groups met in Istanbul on March 27 for a second straight day and reportedly agreed that the Syrian National Council would be the "formal interlocutor and formal representative of the Syrian people," according to a statement released after the opposition conference.
Several opposition representatives were cited as saying they were skeptical about whether Syrian President Assad or his government were sincere in their pledges to accept Annan's peace deal.
A Kurdish group reportedly walked out of the opposition conference saying their views were not being given sufficient attention.
Death Toll Raised
Elsewhere on March 27, the United Nations raised its estimate of the death toll from the past year of unrest in Syria to more than 9,000 people.
Robert Serry, a UN Middle East peace envoy, told the Security Council that the higher death toll is based on "credible" estimates of killings caused by a government crackdown on dissent and attacks by rebel fighters, who oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Serry noted the Syrian authorities' letter agreeing to Annan's peace initiative and said Annan has emphasized in conversations with Syrian officials that they need to demonstrate clearly their intention to implement the peace deal.
"Mr. [Kofi] Annan has written to President Assad urging the Syrian government to put its commitments into immediate effect," he said. "Mr. Annan has stressed that implementation will be key, not only for the Syrian people who are caught in the middle of this tragedy, but also for the region and the international community as a whole."
In related news, fighting continued in Syria on March 27 amid claims that Syrian forces had crossed the border into Lebanon.
Some Lebanese witnesses said Syrian troops crossed the frontier during fighting near the border town of Qaa in pursuit of fleeing opposition forces.
Lebanese security officials denied that Syrian troops had crossed the border, but they did say that bullets from the fighting had landed in Lebanese territory.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP