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Annan remains hopeful as Syria defies truce plan

Syrian troops defied a U.N.-brokered cease-fire plan on Tuesday, launching fresh attacks on rebellious areas, but special envoy Kofi Annan said there was still time to salvage a truce that he described as the only chance for peace.

More than a year into the Syrian uprising, the international community has nearly run out of options for halting the slide toward civil war. On Tuesday, Annan insisted his peace initiative remains "very much alive" -- in part because there is no viable alternative.

The U.N. has ruled out military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, and several rounds of sanctions and other attempts to isolate President Bashar Assad have done little to stop the bloodshed.

"If you want to take (the plan) off the table, what will you replace it with?" Annan told reporters in Hatay, Turkey, where he toured a camp sheltering Syrian refugees.

Facing a Tuesday deadline to pull back its tanks and troops, the Syrian government had said it was withdrawing from certain areas, including the rebellious central province of Homs. But France called the claims a "flagrant and unacceptable lie," and activists said there was no sign of a withdrawal.

Residents of Homs reported some of the heaviest shelling in months.

"Hundreds of mortar rounds and shells were falling around all day," resident Tarek Badrakhan told the Associated Press. He said a makeshift hospital housing wounded people and dozens of corpses was destroyed in the shelling.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, obtained by the Associated Press, Annan said Syria has not pulled troops and heavy military equipment out of cities and towns, and that the regime's last-minute conditions put the entire cease-fire at risk.

The council strongly backed Annan, with all 15 members -- including Syrian allies China and Russia -- urging Syria's leaders to halt all military action so a cease-fire can take effect at 6 a.m. on Thursday, as called for by Annan's plan. It also called on the opposition to stop all violence if the Syrian forces halt attacks.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Annan's report made clear that "Assad is not complying with the commitments that he made under the six-point plan and that, in fact, violence has only gotten worse over this last week."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe accused Assad of lying and flouting Syria's commitments.

According to Annan's peace plan, the pullback of Syrian forces was supposed to be followed by a full cease-fire by all within 48 hours. The halt in fighting would then pave the way for an observer mission and talks between both sides over the country's future.

Syria's main opposition group said about 1,000 people have been killed in regime attacks in the last eight days alone, a figure that could not be independently confirmed.