Fresh shelling has been reported in Syrian cities and towns despite the foreign minister claiming the government had begun to comply with a peace plan that requires it to withdraw its troops.
Activist Dana Al Homsy in Homs told Sky News: “The Syrian army is not withdrawing, they are actually shelling the city right now.
“Every time we have some deadline they only accelerate their violence. It goes worse.”
Under the plan, brokered by the UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, the government’s heavy artillery was supposed to be pulled out of population centres 48 hours ahead of a ceasefire due to start on Thursday.
Speaking in Russia, Syria’s foreign minister Walid Muallem said: “We have already withdrawn forces and army units from several Syrian provinces.”
However, he did not specify which provinces the military had left and activists in a number of cities and towns where the opposition to Assad’s rule is strongest continued to report that troops were on the ground.
The village of Marea, in northern Aleppo province, was shelled after Assad loyalists surrounded it overnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the UK-based group, told AFP that “army tanks were shelling Marea, while helicopters hovered” over the village.
The Local Co-ordination Committees, one of the opposition groups inside Syria, said “large military reinforcements” had arrived on the eastern outskirts of the besieged city of Rastan overnight.
While in the capital, activist Mar Moaz said: “We’ve got tanks and military machines 2km away from the building of the prime minister. Yesterday and today, ferocious raids and arrests happened at different hotspots and neighbourhoods of Damascus.
“This (ceasefire) is just giving more time for the regime to kill us, to kill the revolution, to kill as many as they can before any serious political movement,” he told Sky News.
UN envoy Annan said that he had information that the Syrian military was withdrawing from some areas, but at the same time was moving into others that had previously not been targeted.
Speaking in Turkey, he said there was “still time” to end the violence, which has claimed at least 9,000 lives in 13 months, before Thursday.
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“On the question of whether the plan is succeeding or failing, I believe it is a bit too early to say that the plan has failed. The plan is still on the table,” he told a news conference in Hatay province.
The latest shelling came after at least 150 people were reported to have been killed on Monday, many in Hama province.
Foreign Secretary William Hague accused Syria of using the deadline “as a cover for intensified military efforts to crush Syria’s opposition”.
“There is no evidence so far that the Assad regime has any intention of adhering to any agreement it makes,” he said.
“We continue to support Kofi Annan’s efforts to implement the plan he set out.
“But if this process fails Britain is ready to return to the UN Security Council to call again for a united international response to this clear threat to international peace and security.”
The regime initially agreed to the peace plan but over the weekend demanded “written guarantees” that the rebel fighters would lay down their weapons.
During his visit to Russia, Mr Muallem said: “We will not ask the terrorist groups, which are killing, kidnapping and destroying infrastructure, for guarantees. We want Annan to give us these guarantees.”
He also said that the ceasefire must be accompanied by the arrival of international observers.
Moscow has repeatedly refusing to back any punitive measures – even sanctions – against the government of Mr Assad but has supported the peace plan.
“We told our Syrian colleague … we think their actions could be more active, more decisive in regard to the fulfillment of the points of the plan,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference.
China, which also failed to back sanctions against Syria, has also called on both sides fighting in Syria to immediately adhere to the ceasefire.
A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army said his forces were committed to the ceasefire but would continue to fight if government troops did not withdraw.
Meanwhile, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned a “clear violation” of its border after refugee camp in Turkey, which hosts more than 24,000 refugees from the uprising, came under fire from Syrian troops.
A Lebanese TV cameraman has also been killed by Syrian soldiers while filming the border area from Lebanon.