Syria opposition urges UN intervention
DAMASCUS - Agence France-Presse
REUTERS photoSyria's main opposition group in exile on Saturday urged the UN to intervene militarily, ahead of an expected Security Council vote on deploying hundreds of ceasefire observers in the country.
The Syrian authorities said they released 30 people detained for their alleged role in a popular uprising in which some regime opponents have taken up arms, in a likely bid to show it is abiding by a UN-backed peace plan.
In New York, diplomats said the Security Council had reached a tentative accord on a resolution to send the 300-strong ceasefire observer force to Syria that could be voted later on Saturday.
Russia's UN envoy was upbeat about the text, but his US counterpart indicated a vote was not certain as Western nations decide if the conditions for the force are strong enough.
The council approved an advanced mission of 30 observers and seven are already in Syria where the UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed in a 13-month crackdown on dissent against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
The advance team on Saturday visited the province of Homs, whose capital city of the same name has been at the forefront of the anti-Assad uprising and borne the brunt of artillery attacks, state news agency SANA reported.
An activist in Homs said earlier that the situation in the city itself was calm on Saturday.
"The area was calm," possibly indicating an imminent visit by observers to Homs, Khaled Tellawi told AFP in Beirut on the phone, adding that electricity and communications were cut off.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group issued a similar report that said the guns were silent on Saturday morning.
But the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) claimed government forces had entered the Bayyada district of Homs and that the "streets and houses were full of the bodies of martyrs and the destruction terrifying." Since the beginning of the year, troops have been pounding the central city in a bid to retake rebel-held districts.
On Friday, violence persisted on the ground, with at least 46 people killed as thousands of Syrians protested against Assad's regime, according to monitors and activists.
"We call anew on the UN Security Council to act with all urgency to intervene militarily to bring an end to the crimes committed by the bloody regime against the unarmed Syrian people," said the SNC.
SANA said the Syrian authorities had freed 30 people who were detained in the uprising but who have "no blood on their hands." The move takes to nearly 4,000 the number of people the authorities have released since November, after taking them in for the same reason, SANA reported.
A truce and the release of political prisoners are among six points Syria's government agreed to under international envoy Kofi Annan's UN-backed peace plan to end the bloodshed.
The Observatory, which puts the overall death toll at more than 11,000 for the 13 months, said another 46 people were killed on Friday, including 29 civilians.
Government forces killed the civilians in shelling of rebel strongholds, while at least 17 soldiers were killed in explosions and clashes with rebel fighters, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International expressed concern about the fate of a cardiologist, Dr Mahmud al-Rifai, arrested in Damascus on February 16 and "believed to have been tortured" for having treated injured protesters.
The London-based group raised similar fears about another doctor, Mohammed al-Ammar, whom it said was a peaceful activist detained on March 19 in the southern city of Daraa, cradle of the uprising.
Monitors say more than 200 people have been killed in Syria since a shaky ceasefire to which the government and rebels committed themselves went into effect on April 12.
Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin called for a "unanimous vote" on the text his country took a leading role in drawing up. But his US counterpart Susan Rice indicated a vote is not certain as the West decides whether the conditions for the force are strong enough.
Painstaking talks brought rival Russian and European resolutions into a single draft text.
The final proposal would give UN chief Ban Ki-moon the task of making an "assessment" on whether it was safe enough to send the unarmed military observers and civilians experts.
Ban asked this week for the expanded force to be set up even though he said Assad has not kept commitments to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from Syrian cities.