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World powers cling to Syria truce

BEIRUT — Artillery shatters homes in opposition areas. Regime tanks roll though city centers. Civilians dig graves for dozens of corpses, scrawling their names on headstones with black markers.

Six days on, this is the cease-fire in Syria.

But U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and others stand by the U.N.-negotiated truce, saying the violence is sporadic and that President Bashar Assad's regime has lessened its assaults. Even with dozens reported dead over the past two days, the world powers struggling to stop Syria's bloodshed are reluctant to declare the cease-fire dead.

"That process needs to play itself out before we judge it a success or a failure," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Ban, speaking in Luxembourg, said there has been "sporadic" violence taking place, but "we think that the overall cessation of violence has been generally observed."

In somewhat more critical comments of the Syrian regime, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assad's forces have complied with the cease-fire "in the most grudging way possible" and "not yet met all of its terms."

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said "the situation is not improving. The violence is continuing, the bombardments, particularly in Homs, seem to be increasing, and the conditions that one would want and need to see for the effective deployment of the balance of the monitors are not at present in place."

Nevertheless, Rice called the U.N. plan "perhaps the best and potentially the last best effort to resolve the situation through peaceful diplomatic means."

"It may be impossible to do so," Rice acknowledged. "It may be that the government's logic is that it will continue the use of violence despite its repeated commitments as long as it can get away with it."

But a lack of alternatives exist for calming Syria's 13-month-old crisis.