Syrian Clashes Continue as UN Monitors Begin Mission

Posted April 16th, 2012 at 4:05 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, and clashes persisted elsewhere.

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

The latest violence took place hours after the U.N. team, led by Moroccan Colonel Ahmed Himmiche, arrived in the Syrian 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 says 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 is scheduled to meet top European Union officials Monday to discuss the situation in Syria.

On Sunday, Mr. Ban voiced serious concern about the continuing violence, saying “the whole world is watching with skeptical eyes” whether the cease-fire can be sustained.

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 crackdown on “terrorist attacks” inside the country.

A Syria-based activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, said 23 people were killed in Syria Sunday, including 11 in Homs.

The head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdelrahman, said shells were being fired at a rate of three a minute in the flashpoint city. Elsewhere, rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked a police station in northern Aleppo province.

In response, Syria warns that armed “terrorists groups” have intensified attacks in the country in conjunction with the recently negotiated cease-fire. A military official quoted by state television says security forces “will prevent the terrorist groups from continuing their criminal attacks.”

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari reiterated his 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.

Appearing on U.S. television, the Arizona lawmaker said America's response to continued bloodletting in Syria is “inadequate and shameful.” He said that “for the United States to sit and watch this wanton massacre is a betrayal of everything we stand for and believe in.”

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.

But McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, noted that Syrian rebels are outgunned and that – as he put it – it “is not a fair fight.”

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