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The Mideast

Red Cross pressing for aid access in Syria

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April 1, 2012: Syrian boys watch Free Syrian Army fighters move through a neighborhood of Damascus, Syria.AP

BEIRUT -- The International Committee of the Red Cross pressed Syria Tuesday to give aid workers access to civilians endangered by shelling and armed clashes while fresh violence raised doubts that President Bashar Assad's regime will adhere to a U.N. peace plan.

Syria has accepted an April 10 deadline to comply with the conditions laid out by international envoy Kofi Annan, which include withdrawing government forces from populated areas and observing a cease-fire -- first by the regime, then by the rebels -- and talks by all sides on a political solution.

The plan also calls for an immediate daily two-hour halt to fighting so humanitarian aid can reach suffering civilians, as well as unhindered access for aid groups and journalists.

Opposition activists have blasted the plan as too little, too late and for not stipulating that Assad must leave power. They also accuse him of stalling so he can continue his crackdown on dissent.

On Tuesday, ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger held talks with Syria's foreign minister and the head of the Red Cross' local branch, and was to meet later with the health and interior ministers.

He said before his visit he would appeal for greater access to the sick, wounded and displaced, as well as for the two-hour daily halt to the fighting to allow aid access.

Western leaders have cautiously accepted the April 10 deadline, saying Assad's regime must be judged by its actions.

The regime has verbally accepted other peace plans in recent months only to ignore them on the ground. An Arab League effort that included sending in monitors to promote a cease-fire collapsed in violence in November.

The latest violence shows how little effect international diplomacy has had on violence in Syria more than one year after the start of a popular uprising, which began with peaceful protests but escalated into armed conflict. The U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed.

Opposition groups reported army raid and arrest campaigns across the country on Tuesday as well as clashes with local rebels.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two civilians were killed in clashes in the northern village of Taftanaz, where rebel destroyed one army vehicle and regime forces torched a number of homes.

The group also said government forces carried out raids and home burnings in the provinces of Hama in the country's center and clashes in Daraa 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 groups said.