Syria announced Wednesday that it had succeeded in asserting government control over the country after more than a year of unrest and would therefore observe a U.N.-brokered cease-fire due to go into effect this morning.
A statement issued by the Defense Ministry added, however, that the government would retain the right to retaliate against attacks by "armed terrorist groups," casting into doubt its promise to stop fighting under the terms of the cease-fire proposed by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan -- the central plank in the international community's efforts to end the bloodshed.
The Syrian government has long described the 13-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule as the work of "terrorists." The conflict has killed about 9,000 people.
The White House urged caution, and activists also said they were skeptical that the cease-fire would be observed.
"The regime is going to quit shooting, but it is not going to quit arresting people, and it is not going to quit torturing them," said Omar al-Khani, a protest organizer in Damascus who uses a pseudonym to protect his identity. "We know we can't trust this regime, for sure."
Hours before the cease-fire deadline of 6 a.m. today (11 p.m. Wednesday EDT), government attacks continued in some opposition flash points, with Syrian troops reportedly shelling the central city of Homs and the Damascus suburb of Zabadani. Activists in Hama, in the north, said that at least 20 tanks had been newly deployed in the center of the city, in violation of a clause in the cease-fire that calls for the withdrawal of tanks and troops from residential areas.
The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said at least 91 people were killed in Wednesday's violence, including 57 in Homs. The Syrian Revolution, another group, put the number of casualties at 60, but the total could not be confirmed because the government is keeping most Western journalists out of Syria.
The Defense Ministry statement, however, implied that the government believes that the offensive that has unfolded in recent weeks against opposition centers has succeeded in crushing the revolt, allowing it to comply with the demand to halt the fighting today.