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Assad Tours Homs As Syria Peace Deal Agreed

Syrian President Bashar al Assad has toured a former rebel stronghold devastated by his forces as his country accepted a UN-backed deal to end the bloody conflict.

Mr Assad was shown around the Baba Amr district of Homs, which was besieged by regime troops for weeks.

He reassured residents the battered neighbourhood would be rebuilt and that normal life would resume.

"Baba Amr will be much better than before," Mr Assad told dozens of people crowded around him.

The brief visit, which was aired on state television, marked a rare public appearance by the embattled head of state who is in the throes of an unprecedented revolt against his regime.

Residents were seen weeping and cheering their president on, one woman hugged and kissed him.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the UN-Arab League envoy confirmed that Syria has accepted Kofi Annan's proposals to end the crisis.

"The Syrian government has written to the joint special envoy Kofi Annan accepting his six-point plan , endorsed by the United Nations Security Council," said Ahmad Fawzi.

It came after Mr Annan's arrival in Beijing for talks with premier Wen Jiabao who has given China's backing to the proposals.

"He (Mr Annan) does of course view it as a positive development but the key is in the implementation," Mr Fawzi said after their meeting.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague cast doubt on Syria's latest stance, saying the regime's recent history provided cause for scepticism.

"We have to look at the track record of the Assad-regime, which has been over the last year to say that they are signing up to agreements... and not implement them in practice," he said.

"This is a regime that has been involved in the murdering of many thousands of people (and) the torture and abuse of many others.

"We want them to respond genuinely positively to what Kofi Annan has put forward. Now the test will be what they actually do on the ground."

Mr Annan met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the weekend, who also expressed full support for the envoy's plan, which includes a ceasefire supervised by the United Nations alongside political dialogue.

Speaking in Moscow, Mr Annan stressed that while there is no deadline for ending the crisis it must not be allowed to drag on indefinitely.

China and Russia have faced international criticism after twice vetoing UN Security Council resolutions to end the year-long crackdown.

At the time, the two countries called the resolutions unbalanced, saying they only blamed the Syrian government and demanded an end to regime-led attacks but not ones by the opposition.

Mr Annan has called for a daily two-hour halt in fighting to evacuate the injured and provide humanitarian aid. The UN estimates more than 8,000 people have been killed in the uprising.

Activists reported earlier that security forces had continued their bombardment of rebel-held areas of Homs on Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least five people were killed in the district of Khaldiya.

The former UN secretary general has not called for President Assad to resign, insisting it will be up to the Syrian people to decide whether he should step down.

And Mr Medvedev has called it "short-sighted" to think the crisis in Syria would be solved if President Assad agreed to Western calls to relinquish his position.

Around 60 countries, including the United States, will attend a "Friends of the Syrian People" conference in Istanbul at the weekend.

Washington and many of its allies say Mr Assad has lost all legitimacy and must step down.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China has been invited to the conference but will not attend.

Officials in China have been wary of backing proposals that call for a change of government, saying the crisis needs to be resolved through talks.

The exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has said it will work for a democratic state if Mr Assad falls.

Speaking in Turkey, Brotherhood official Ali Bayanouni insisted the group would not monopolise power.

"The regime now is accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to control Syria alone and of having aims of being the only rulers of Syria in the future," he said on Sunday.

"We are here to reassure everyone that we will co-operate with all the other partners in the Syrian opposition to build a new Syria, a free Syria, a democratic Syria, and we will not attempt to be the only ruling party in Syria."