BEIRUT — Syria’s political opposition accused President Bashar Assad of escalating military assaults on four major urban centers on Tuesday.
Such assaults would directly contradict the Syrian government’s promise, announced on Monday, that it would immediately begin pulling armed forces back from population centers, in accordance with a special envoy’s cease-fire plan.
The activists reported heavy shelling in the cities of Hama and Homs, as well as large deployments of security forces sweeping through neighborhoods in those cities, the northern city of Idlib and the southern city of Daraa, the birthplace of the Syrian uprising, which is now in its second year.
Fresh accusations of duplicity by the Syrian authorities also came from Susan E. Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, who is the rotating monthly president of the Security Council.
At a briefing on Tuesday concerning the council’s agenda for April, Rice told reporters that the Syrian government’s behavior since making the commitment to the cease-fire plan “is not encouraging.’’
The Syrian government’s using this opportunity to escalate its repression, she said, would be “most unfortunate.’’
Under the cease-fire plan, Syria agreed to immediately begin withdrawing its security forces and heavy weaponry from in and around major population centers, with a deadline of April 10 for a complete withdrawal.
That step would be followed by a general cease-fire within 48 hours by both the Syrian military and the armed opposition fighters it has sought to crush.
Assad has been widely expected to disregard the plan, negotiated by Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy of the UN and the Arab League, despite his pledge to honor it, a pattern he has followed repeatedly as the conflict has deepened.
Even Annan was skeptical, as reflected in his entreaty to the Security Council to endorse the April 10 deadline to keep pressure on Assad.
“It is our hope and expectation that after April 10 the violence would have ceased on the part of the government,’’ Rice said.
Asked about possible action by the 15-member Security Council after April 10 if it became clear that Annan’s cease-fire plan had failed, Rice acknowledged the divisions in the council over Syria.
Previous efforts to pass a resolution condemning Assad’s crackdown were vetoed by Russia and China.
But Rice said there was hope for a unified response now because all council members, including Russia and China, have backed Annan’s plan.
“In that context, should the Syrian regime continue its violence, we hope that that would create a climate in which all member states see the wisdom of delivering not just a strong message but strong actions,’’ Rice said.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency framed its coverage of Annan’s cease-fire plan in starkly different terms.
It said nothing on its website about increased troop deployments, but instead denounced the “Friends of Syria’’ meeting of countries hostile to Assad, including the United States and members of the Arab League, which was held in Turkey over the weekend.
The countries at the meeting agreed to give money and nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition. The Syrian news agency, quoting Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador to the UN, said those countries wanted to “arm the terrorists’’ and make Annan’s effort fail.
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, traveled on Tuesday to Damascus, the Syrian capital.
The Red Cross said his purpose was to renew an appeal for a daily two-hour suspension of hostilities to facilitate the evacuation of the wounded and the delivery of aid.
The state-run news agency reported that Kellenberger had met with the foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, but it said nothing about Kellenberger’s specific request.
The agency quoted Moallem as assuring his guest that “Syria will continue to provide all that is needed to ensure the success of the ICRC’s work and humanitarian mission in coordination with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.’’