UN urged to send more Syria observers
The UN is under pressure to move more quickly to send unarmed observers to Syria, amid fears that a tenuous ceasefire could collapse before the next stages of a peace plan can be implemented.
Ten days after a UN resolution authorising the despatch of 30-strong "rapid response team", only 11 military observers are operating in Syria, where opposition sources said on Tuesday that 21 people had been killed by the security forces, and the government blamed a car bombing in central Damascus on "terrorists". Sana, the state news agency, said a Syrian intelligence officer and his brother were killed. in a suburb of the capital. Last weekend the UN security council approved the establishment of a 300-strong UN supervision mission in Syria, which it is hoped could start deploying next week. Diplomats say that Syria has been pressing for personnel to be drawn from countries that are friendly to it, such as Russia, China and India.
Kofi Annan, the joint envoy for the UN and Arab League, was due to brief the security council later on Tuesday. Aides said he would focus on ceasefire violations in places like Hama, where government security forces opened fire on Monday after crowds on the same streets welcomed a UN team.
Activists reported scores of dead, though there was no confirmation of this due to restrictions on the media. Annan's six-point plan calls for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from towns, humanitarian and media access, the release of prisoners and a "Syrian-led" process to discuss future political arrangements. The precarious and partial truce is the only element to have been implemented so far.
"The expeditious deployment of the up-to-300 observers is crucial and will begin as soon as possible, subject to the assessment by the secretary-general of the situation on the ground," Annan's spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, said on Tuesday.
The 11 observers – the only ones available at short notice – were drawn from other UN missions in the Middle East. Two have now been stationed in Hama province, the team reported.
Annan's plan is often described as the only diplomatic route out of the 14-month Syrian crisis, which has already claimed around 10,000 lives. Its Syrian and foreign critics complain it plays into the hands of President Bashar al-Assad, allowing him to gain time and exploit divisions amongst his enemies at home and abroad. Its defenders ask what the alternative would be, given the lack of international appetite for another Libyan-style intervention.
Syrian TV reported that a car bomb planted by "armed terrorist groups" had exploded in Martyrs Square in the centre of Damascus on Tuesday, injuring three people. But opposition activists quickly described it as a fake attack that had been orchestrated by the regime. The Revolution Leadership Council of Damascus said a TV cameraman escorted by security forces was on the scene moments after the blast, which caused only slight damage.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission said that 11 of Tuesday's 21 dead were in Homs.
Western and Arab foreign ministers meeting in Paris last week described the UN observer mission as a "last chance" for peace. The US said that if Damascus did not permit an adequate monitoring process, the security council should work towards imposing sanctions on Syria. But Russia and China have thus far blocked any moves to punish Damascus and insist they are backing the Annan plan.Resources: UN urged to send more Syria observers
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