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Originally published Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 3:38 AM

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3 Syrian soldiers die in clashes with rebels

Three Syrian soldiers died in clashes with rebels in the central province of Homs on Wednesday, an activist group said, just a day after President Bashar Assad said he has accepted a U.N. plan to resolve the country's crisis.

Associated Press

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BEIRUT —

Three Syrian soldiers died in clashes with rebels in the central province of Homs on Wednesday, an activist group said, just a day after President Bashar Assad said he has accepted a U.N. plan to resolve the country's crisis.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out when government forces tried to enter the town of Rastan, which is in the hands of army defectors. The activist group also reported clashes in the Deir el-Zour province along the Iraqi border and said government troops had fired mortars at the city of Homs.

The fresh violence coincides with a new wave of international diplomacy seeking to end the year-old conflict that the U.N. says has left more than 9,000 people dead.

Syria said Tuesday that Assad accepted a peace plan put forward by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The plan calls for Damascus to immediately stop troop movements and use of heavy weapons in populated areas and to commit to a daily two-hour halt in fighting to allow humanitarian access and medical evacuations.

It also calls for a full cease-fire to be supervised by the U.N. so that all parties can discuss a political solution.

Members of the fractured opposition struggling to end Assad's regime accused him of using the plan to stall for time as his troops make a renewed push to kill off bastions of dissent.

The U.S. and Britain, both of which have called on the Syrian president to step down, said Assad must back his words with action.

Annan said Tuesday during a visit to Beijing that he had received Chinese backing for his plan. As international condemnation of Assad has grown, Russia and China have protected him from censure by the U.N. Security Council. But Russia, too, has endorsed Annan's plan.

Also on Wednesday, the 22-member Arab League is to discuss a new resolution on the Syria conflict at a summit in Baghdad. The body's foreign ministers are expected to ask their heads of state to urge the Syrian regime to halt its crackdown on civilians and allow humanitarian groups into the country. The ministers are meeting in the Iraqi capital on Wednesday and the heads of state will gather on Thursday.

The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with mostly peaceful protests as part of the Arab Spring. It turned increasingly militarized after the government unleashed tanks, snipers and troops with machine guns to break up protests - a development that many opposition members say forced them to take up arms. The government denies there is a popular uprising, saying the revolt is being driven by armed groups and others it calls terrorists.

Syria's opposition has failed throughout the conflict to create a unified front against Assad. Hundreds of opposition leaders abroad met in Turkey on Tuesday and discussed how to restructure the Syrian National Council to properly represent the opposition. The body is often accused of ineffectiveness, and prominent members have recently quit, accusing council leaders of not sharing decision-making.

The body has limited control over opposition activities inside Syria or over the various armed groups fighting the government across Syria under the banner of the Free Syrian Army.

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