- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

BEIRUT Loud explosions reverberated across the central city of Homs and clashes were reported in several areas across Syria on Wednesday, just hours after the government said it has started to withdraw troops from some cities in compliance with an international cease-fire plan.

Activists said a 50-year-old man and his younger brother were killed by soldiers who opened fire on their car from a machine gun mounted on a tank in the country’s north.

A Syrian government official said Tuesday evening that troops had started pulling out from some calm cities and heading back to their bases, a week ahead of a deadline to implement U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s truce plan.

President Bashar Assad agreed just days ago to an April 10 deadline to implement Mr. Annan’s plan. It requires regime forces to withdraw from towns and cities and observe a cease-fire. Rebel fighters are to immediately follow by ceasing violence.

In Homs, a bastion of dissent against Mr. Assad’s regime, opposition figure Mohammed Saleh said there have been a series of loud blasts that “rattled windows” in his home, and that heavy machine-gun fire was heard across parts of the old city.

The source of the explosions was not immediately clear, he said. In recent days, armed defectors known as the Free Syrian Army have taken control of the national hospital in the Jouret al-Shayah district and two other government buildings.

“There is no sign of any withdrawal or calm in Homs,” Mr. Saleh said. “The situation is just as bad as it has been for the past few months.”

In the Damascus suburb of Douma, activist Mohammed Saeed said regime troops were carrying out raids and arrests on Wednesday. He said tanks and checkpoints remain in place and reported overnight clashes in the suburb of Kisweh and Moaddamiyeh.

“It is impossible for the regime to withdraw from towns and cities because if it did, we would be in Damascus on the next day,” Mr. Saeed said.

Activists in the northern Idlib province and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 50-year-old Ahmad al-Othman, a former political detainee, and his 40-year-old brother, Adnan, a lawyer, were killed overnight when troops fired on their car from a machine gun mounted on a tank.

Opposition activists had charged earlier that the regime was racing to crush opponents ahead of the cease-fire deadline by carrying out intense raids, arrests and shelling on Tuesday.

The opposition has blasted Mr. Annan’s plan as too little, too late, and are particularly angry that it does not call for Mr. Assad to leave power - the central demand of the uprising.

They suspect Mr. Assad will manipulate the plan and use it to stall for time while his forces continue to crack down.