ISTANBUL // Turkey's government and Syrian activists in Turkey said yesterday they did not trust the promise of Bashar Al Assad to pull out government troops from beleaguered cities by next Tuesday.
"We hope they practice what they preach," a senior Turkish diplomat told The National on condition of anonymity.
But he added it was "very difficult to trust Syria after so many bad experiences".
Syria on Monday agreed to a proposal by special envoy Kofi Annan for the withdrawal. Rebel forces are due to follow within 48 hours.
Syria has reneged on earlier pledges to implement several agreements to end the violence that has killed more than 9,000 civilians and 3,000 government forces since last March.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, did not directly comment on the latest Syrian announcement, but said in a speech yesterday the regime should be watched with scepticism.
"Believing in Assad's word is like giving him a chance to kill and will result in new disappointments," Mr Erdogan told lawmakers of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in a televised speech,
He said Mr Al Assad was blaming the violence in Syria on terrorists when in reality his own forces were the terrorists.
Mahmut Osman, Turkey's representative of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella group recognised as Syria's main opposition organisation by the international community, also voiced doubts about the promised troop withdrawal.
"My personal view is that Assad will pull back some tanks, just for show, and put them on the side," Mr Osman said.
He said he suspected Mr Al Assad, under pressure from his allies Russia and Iran, would try to give the impression of a complete troop pullback to be able to hit rebel forces again later.
Activists said Syrian forces shelled rebellious neighbourhoods in the central city of Homs and the nearby towns Qusair and Rastan yesterday and carried out raid and arrest campaigns elsewhere. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least two civilians were killed in clashes between rebels and government forces that stormed the town of Taftanaz and torched several homes. The group also said government forces carried out raids and burnt homes in the provinces of Hama in the country's centre and in Deraa in the south. Gunmen in the northern city of Aleppo attacked the home of the head of military institutions late Monday and killed two guards, the group said. Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, said at least 13 people were killed nationwide, six of them in Homs province and 5 in the raid at Taftanaz. The activists' claims could not be independently verified.
Opposition activists have blasted the plan as too little, too late and for not stipulating that Mr Al Assad must leave power.
They also accuse Mr Al Assad of using the plan to stall so he can continue his repression. "He thinks he can win more time to take control of all Syrian cities," activist Adel Al Omari said by phone from the southern town of Dael, where regime forces have been torching activists' homes since raiding the town on Monday.
The Syrian government has not commented publicly on the April 10 withdrawal deadline.
It has accepted other peace plans in recent months only to ignore them.
It also remains unclear whether rebel forces fighting government troops under the banner of the Free Syrian Army would respect a ceasefire.
Dozens of local militias in different parts of the country have only loose links to each other and to their official leadership in Turkey.
One activist in the central Homs region said yesterday the area's biggest rebel group, the Farouq Brigade, would cease its attacks on government targets if the government stopped shelling towns and cities. "They will continue to resist until they see that there is a positive step from the regime," Mahmoud Orabi said via Skype from the town of Qusair.
Hamsa Abdullah, a Syrian activist in Istanbul, also said he did not expect the Al Assad regime to pull back its troops.
Mr Abdullah is preparing a fund-raising campaign for the Syrian opposition in cooperation with the SNC and the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS). He said the aim of the "International Campaign for the Support of the Syrian People" was to help civilians as well as the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press