A team from the United Nations peacekeeping department is expected in Damascus within 48 hours to discuss deployment of observers to monitor a ceasefire in Syria, the spokesman for international mediator Kofi Annan has said.
"A DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] planning mission should be arriving in Damascus within 48 hours," spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.
As part of the six-part peace plan put forward by Annan to halt the fighting, UN peacekeepers are planning for a ceasefire monitoring mission that would have 200 to 250 unarmed observers. The move would require a UN Security Council resolution.
According to a government official who spoke to Associated Press on condition of anonymity, Syrian troops began pulling out Tuesday from some calm cities and headed back to their bases a week ahead of a deadline to implement the international cease-fire plan.
The claim could not immediately be verified and activists near the capital Damascus denied troops were leaving their area.
They said the day regime forces withdraw from streets, Syria will witness massive protests that will overthrow the government.
"Forces began withdrawing to outside calm cities and are returning to their bases, while in tense areas, they are pulling out to the outskirts," the government official said in Damascus without saying when the withdrawal began. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Assad has agreed to start implementing a peace plan by April 10, but Annan told the UN Security Council that there has been no progress yet in halting the bloodshed.
Syria has agreed to start partially implementing Annan's peace plan by April 10 and that there should be a "full cessation of hostilities" within 48 hours, the former UN secretary general told the council.
Syria's ambassador to the UN confirmed on Monday that Damascus has accepted the deadline for partially implementing Annan's peace plan, but wants the same commitment from the opposition.
"The Syrian government is committed but we are expecting Mr Kofi Annan and some parties in the Security Council also to get the same kind of commitments from the [opposition]. A plan wouldn't be successful unless everybody is committed to it," said Bashar Jaafari.
According to the plan, the Syrian government would stop the movement of troops into cities and withdraw heavy weapons from urban areas.
Annan told the council there has been "no progress" so far on reaching a ceasefire or implementing his six-point peace plan, one diplomat said.
Annan also said the Security Council had to start considering the deployment of an observer mission to monitor events in Syria.
Despite Annan's plan, reports have emerged that the Syrian government sent troops backed by tanks into rebellious areas on Monday to search for activists.
The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria over the past year while Syrian rights activists put the death toll at more than 10,000.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused the UN Security Council on Tuesday of indirectly supporting the "oppression" of the Syrian people by failing to adopt a united stance on Syria.
Once a friend of Damascus, Turkey has become a fierce critic of Assad over his year-long crackdown on his opponents and has called for the Syrian leader to step down.
"In not taking a decision, the U.N. Security Council has indirectly supported the oppression. To stand by with your hands
and arms tied while the Syrian people are dying every day is to support the oppression," Erdogan said.
Meanwhile, Western diplomats expressed scepticism about the credibility of the Syrian government, which has repeatedly promised to end attacks while continuing with its crackdown on a year-long uprising that has brought the country to the brink of civil war.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters that several council members had "expressed concern that the government of Syria not use the next days to intensify the violence and expressed some skepticism about the bona fides of the government in this regard".
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria
Al Jazeera's Cath Turner, reporting from the UN, said that while Monday's developments were seen as progress, "there is that 10 per cent of doubt amongst some of the Western powers and the United States".
Arab and Western nations have called for a deadline to be imposed on Assad, but Russia, a major ally of the government in Syria and a permanent member of the Security Council, has rejected the calls.
Annan went to Damascus this month to meet Assad for talks and has since been in contact with government officials to demand an end to the violence.
A Friends of Syria meeting of about 80 countries including the United States, Arab and European nations called on Sunday for a deadline to be imposed against Assad.