Clashes in Syria mar UN mission

Clashes in Syria mar UN mission

Clashes in Syria mar UN mission

Opposition activists accompany Moroccan UN observer, Colonel Ahmed Himmiche (C) during the UN monitors’ visit to the restive city of Homs. Activists say fighting halts temporarily when the observers are present in the area. AFP photo

Syrian soldiers stormed a town east of Damascus yesterday and rebels bombed a military convoy in the north of the country, as international mediator Kofi Annan urged both sides to work with an expanded team of U.N. ceasefire monitors.

The group of unarmed military monitors has been operating in Syria for a week, overseeing a 10-day-old truce agreement that has curbed some of the violence but failed to bring a complete halt to 13 months of bloodshed. The U.N. Security Council agreed on April 20 to expand the mission to a 300-strong observer team, part of Annan’s plan to halt the killing and launch a political dialogue between President Bashar al-Assad and opponents seeking his downfall. It is the first time the Security Council has authorized unarmed U.N. military observers to go into a conflict area.

Annan said the council’s decision was a “pivotal moment in the stabilization of the country” and called on both Syrian government forces and opposition fighters to put down their weapons and consolidate the ceasefire accord. “The government in particular must desist from the use of heavy weapons and, as it has committed, withdraw such weapons and armed units from population centers,” Reuters quoted Annan as saying.

UN observers set up base in Homs

Opposition activists said security forces killed at least six people yesterday. Soldiers backed by tanks charged into the town of Douma, east of Damascus, while security forces opened fire in the northern province of Idlib, they said. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least four soldiers were killed when a bomb hit an armored personnel carrier outside Douma.

Meanwhile, two U.N. observers set up base yesterday in Homs, their spokesman said, a day after video footage showed residents pleading with them to stay and ensure an end to bloodshed in the battered Syrian city. Generally, fighting halts temporarily when the observers are present in an area, but there has been a steady stream of reports of violence from towns and regions where they have not yet gone.

The spokesman, Neeraj Singh, said other members of the eight-member advance U.N. team of observers were pursuing field visits elsewhere in the strife-torn country. “The UN advance team visited Homs on Saturday, where they met with the local authorities and all the parties,” Singh told Agence France-Presse.

“Today is the first day for two months, exactly since the 5 February ... in Homs without shelling ... without killing, without fire,” one unidentified man said in the footage. “Because of that, we want you to stay. Please stay. This is what we want. When you come, shelling stops. When you come, killing stops,” he told the observers, who were sitting around a table displaying the tail ends of mortars and wearing blue helmets and bullet-proof vests marked “U.N.”

Visit demand rejected


The head of Parliament’s Human Rights Commission has rejected a demand by opposition lawmakers for a visit to Syria to determine if conditions are ripe for the safe return of Syrians taking shelter in Turkey, stressing that any harm which might befall lawmakers could become a reason for war. “The situation in Syria is now beyond any inquiry the Human Rights Commission could conduct.

We have to know the limits of our area of activity,” Commission Chairman Ayhan Sefer Üstün of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) told Anatolia news agency yesterday. “Secondly, no one can guarantee our safety there. God forbid, if something happens to our lawmakers there. That could be a cause for war.” The commission previously visited refugee camps in Hatay and penned a report on their findings.