Syria forces kill two even as UN observers deploy

Agence France-Presse
An advance team of UN military observers arrived in Damascus on Sunday, April 15, to oversee a shaky ceasefire, but dozens of people -- troops as well as civilians -- have been killed since it went into force on Thursday, April 12

DAMASCUS, Syria (AFP) – Syrian regime forces killed at least two civilians on Tuesday, April 17, as they kept up their bombardments of protest centers despite a warning by Washington that it is already discussing options in case a UN-backed peace plan collapses.

An advance team of UN military observers arrived in Damascus on Sunday, April 15, to oversee a shaky ceasefire, but dozens of people — troops as well as civilians — have been killed since it went into force on Thursday, April 12, monitors said.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon called on regime forces to exercise “maximum restraint” and the opposition to “fully cooperate” after 35 people were killed on Monday, April 16.

The two civilians were killed and dozens more wounded in a bombardment early on Tuesday of the Basr al-Harir district of Daraa province, south of Damascus, cradle of the 13-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Regime forces also rained heavy machine gun fire on the province’s Al-Lujat district where large numbers of army deserters loyal to the rebel Free Syrian Army are holed up, the Britain-based watchdog said.

The rebel Khaldiyeh and Bayada districts of the flashpoint central city of Homs also came under renewed shelling, it added.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was “hoping for the best” but was discussing with other powers what to do in the event the peace plan collapses.

Her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov pointed the finger at the opposition — 11 of Monday’s dead were soldiers — and called on its foreign supporters to put pressure on the rebels to honor the truce.

UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan who brokered the six-point peace plan was to travel to Qatar for a ministerial meeting of the Arab League on the crisis later on Tuesday, his spokesman said.

Clinton called on the Syrian regime to honor Annan’s plan in full, not just the promised ceasefire.

“What the Assad regime needs to do is to make clear that they’re going to silence their guns, withdraw their troops and work toward fulfilling the six-point plan,” she said.

Complying with the Annan plan also means allowing peaceful demonstrations, releasing political prisoners and allowing a peaceful political transition to begin, Clinton said.

“So this week will be critical in evaluating the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution” that provides for the dispatch of the observer mission, she said.

“We want to see a political process begin, but if violence is renewed, the regime reverts to shelling its own people and causing a great deal of death and injury, then we’re going to have to get back to planning what our next steps (are).”

Damascus ally Moscow took aim, without naming them, at supporters of the rebels, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, for what it acknowledged was a “fragile” truce.

“There really are those who are interested in the failure of Kofi Annan’s plan and they actually mentioned that (opinion) even before this plan was made public,” Lavrov said.

“There are countries — there are outside forces – that are not interested in the success of current UN Security Council efforts,” he added.

An advance team of six international observers arrived in Damascus late on Sunday, the United Nations said.

The delegation — the first of 30 monitors the UN Security Council approved on Saturday — is setting up a headquarters and preparing routines to verify the ceasefire, a spokesman said.

Their mission is just one part of the six-point peace plan Syria agreed with Annan, and in Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner pressed Syrian authorities to comply with the other points, including releasing prisoners.

“There’s no movement on any of the other five points and it appears that the fragile ceasefire is eroding as well,” Toner told reporters.

A spike in deadly violence forced the Arab League to end its own Syrian monitoring mission in late January, barely a month after sending observers.

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told a news conference in Rome on Monday that the chances for success for the Annan peace plan were “no higher than three percent.”

The UN chief voiced concern.

“I am very much concerned about what has happened since yesterday and today,” Ban said late on Monday. “It is important, absolutely important, that the Syrian government should take all the measures to keep this cessation of violence.” – Agence France-Presse