Syrian Clashes Continue as UN Monitors Begin Mission

Posted April 16th, 2012 at 10:00 am (UTC-5)
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An advance team of six United Nations observers will begin monitoring a shaky cease-fire in Syria, as activists said government troops continue to shell rebel neighborhoods in the opposition stronghold, Homs.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday that security forces also shot dead two people in the central city of Hama when they opened fire on a car.

Clashes persisted elsewhere in the country, hours after the U.N. team, led by Moroccan Colonel Ahmed Himmiche, arrived in the capital, Damascus.

A spokesman for international envoy Kofi Annan said the mission “will start with setting up operating headquarters and reaching out to the Syrian government and opposition forces so both sides fully understand the role of the U.N. observers.”

He said an additional 25 monitors are expected to arrive within days. A larger 250-member team requires more negotiations between the U.N. and the Syrian government.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday said it is the responsibility of the Syrian government to guarantee U.N. observers full freedom of movement to monitor the cease-fire.

Mr. Ban called the accord “very fragile” and said Syrian authorities must exercise restraint and that opposition forces should fully cooperate.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem will arrive in China Monday for a two-day meeting to discuss the peacekeeping mission.

The truce, which formally took effect Thursday, is part of a broader peace plan brokered by Mr. Annan that looked increasingly under threat as the government vowed to crack down on what it called “terrorist attacks” inside the country.

A Syria-based activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said 23 people were killed in Syria on Sunday, including 11 in Homs. The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdelrahman, said shells were being fired at a rate of three per minute in the flashpoint city.

Elsewhere, rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked a police station in northern Aleppo province.

Syria's government said armed “terrorist groups” had intensified attacks in conjunction with the cease-fire. A military official quoted by state television said the security forces “will prevent the terrorist groups from continuing their criminal attacks.”

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari reiterated a commitment to the U.N. plan, which calls for a cease-fire, withdrawal of troops, dialogue between the government and opposition and a “political transition” for the country.

In Washington Sunday, Senator John McCain again called for arming Syrian rebels as part of a more robust effort to oust President Assad.

Senator McCain recently met in Turkey with senior officers of the opposition Free Syrian Army, which has been pleading for foreign military assistance.

The Obama administration says it supports providing humanitarian relief to the Syrian people and has backed U.N.-led efforts to halt the fighting and begin negotiations between Damascus and its opponents.

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed since Syria's anti-government uprising began over a year ago.