UN monitors begin Syria mission, shelling goes on

UN monitors begin Syria mission, shelling goes on

UN monitors begin Syria mission, shelling goes on

A United Nations advance observers team walks through a hotel in Damascus April 16. ‘We will start our mission as soon as possible, and we hope it will be a success,’ Moroccan Col Ahmed Himmiche (C), who leads the team, tells reporters. REUTERS photo

An advance team of United Nations observers was negotiating the ground rules with Syrian authorities yesterday for monitoring the country’s 5-day-old cease-fire, which appeared to be rapidly unraveling as regime forces pounded the opposition stronghold of Homs with artillery shells and mortars, activists said.

The advance team of six U.N. monitors arrived in Damascus the night of April 15. U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said the team, led by Moroccan Col. Ahmed Himmiche, met yesterday with Syrian Foreign Ministry officials to discuss ground rules, including what freedom of movement the observers would have. Fawzi said the remaining 25 observers are expected to arrive in the coming days. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday it is the Syrian government’s responsibility to guarantee freedom of movement for the observers. Ban called the cease-fire “very fragile.”

Team aims to reach out to gov’t and opposition

Fawzi said in a statement issued in Geneva yesterday that the mission “will start with setting up operating headquarters, and reaching out to the Syrian government and the opposition forces.” “We will start our mission as soon as possible and we hope it will be a success,” Himmiche told The Associated Press as he left a Damascus hotel with his team yesterday morning. However, pockets of violence have persisted, particularly in the central cities of Hama and Homs. At least 55 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since a truce came into force at dawn on April 12. Meanwhile, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem would arrive in Beijing yesterday to brief Chinese officials about the cease-fire, China’s state Xinhua news agency said. The regime resumed its intense bombardment in Homs district of Khaldiyeh early yesterday, activists said. Troops were trying to storm the neighborhoods of al-Qarabees and Jouret al-Shayah, but the rebel Free Syrian Army is repelling them, activists said. Two people were reportedly killed in Hama yesterday.

Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül said yesterday that Turkey considered the Annan process “an important opportunity” for Syria. “We see it as an important opportunity and chance for Syria,” Gül told reporters yesterday. Gül said Annan’s plan had to be implemented by laying down arms and ensuring the cease-fire and freedom of expression, Anatolia news agency reported. “Ensuring such an atmosphere, holding a fair election, and enabling the public will solve this problem without shedding more blood and without weakening Syria more.”