DAMASCUS — Syrians voiced hope that a UN-backed ceasefire that came into force Thursday would last, but expressed fear that the government and the rebels were unlikely to commit for good.

"Inshallah (God willing) it will last," said Wassim, standing in his shop in a Damascus square and speaking of the plan tabled by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to end the violence which has engulfed the country.

Michel, who also did not give his full name, said he was "not optimistic," and that he has decided to leave in September to Canada, where his son will begin his university studies.

"This is a farce. The country will never return as before," said this jeweller as he decorated his window with diamonds and gold.

A few metres away from his shop in the Hariqa commercial quarter, people went quietly about their business under a warm spring sun.

In the square, portraits are already up for hopeful candidates wanting to run in the forthcoming legislatives, slated for May 7, despite the ongoing uprising that has left some 10,000 people dead, according to monitors.

"Damascus has become a closed city. We cannot go out at night. The day before yesterday, we did not sleep because gunfire rang in our neighbourhood," said Michel's cousin, also a jeweller.

In a nearby shop, young men discussed politics.

"I am telling you, Syria has become a base. Russia and China would not let it fall," said one in a loud voice, referring to the two allies of Damascus who blocked two proposed UN Security Council resolutions condemning Syria over its deadly crackdown on protests.

The Syrian government announced an end on Thursday morning to military operations against the rebels, claiming that its campaign against the "terrorists" has been successful, but warned that forces would remain ready to retaliate.

The rebels also announced commitment to respect the ceasefire.

"No, that will not last. Yesterday, we heard explosions and gunfire in Qaboon," a northeast district of Damascus, said Nidal. His veiled wife expressed hope that the government and the rebels would abide by the ceasefire.

"I hope that the government will respect the ceasefire. This is an international affair. But will the gunmen abide?" she wondered.

"I don't know," said an elderly man praying to God to "stop the daily killings."

He said he thinks that protests will continue, but that the government will not tolerate people continuing to call for the fall of the regime.

On Thursday the opposition called on the Syrians to take advantage of the ceasefire and return to the street en masse.

Burhan Ghalioun, who leads the exile Syrian National Council, urged the international community to provide protection to Syrians who take to the streets by sending observers.

"We call on the people to demonstrate and express themselves... The right to demonstrate is a principle point of the plan" of Annan, he told AFP.

"There is no value for the Annan plan if it does not transfer the country into having a pluralist and democratic government, and the first step in this transitional process is to uphold the people's right to demonstrate, freedom of expression and press," said Ghalioun.

The interior ministry said those who wish to demonstrate should apply for pre-authorisation, in an apparent anticipation of protests.