Syrian Attacks on Homs Continue, Despite Truce

Posted April 18th, 2012 at 5:15 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian government forces are continuing to attack rebel-held neighborhoods in the flashpoint city of Homs, violating a week-old cease-fire the international community is reluctant to declare dead despite ongoing violence.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday resumed their shelling of Homs, battered by artillery for weeks.

The observatory, an opposition group that aggregates casualty reports from activists inside Syria, said pro-Assad troops killed at least nine civilians Tuesday as the shelling appears to be expanding to other areas.

In Beijing, Syria's foreign minister pledged to respect U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan and cooperate with a United Nations team sent to monitor the fragile cease-fire.

China's foreign ministry quoted Walid Muallem as telling his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, that “Syria would continue to …respect and implement Mr. Annan's six-point proposal.”

Muallem also said Damascus remained committed to implementing the cease-fire, withdrawing troops and cooperating with U.N. observers.

The head of an advance team of six unarmed U.N. observers said it would take time for monitors to reach the hardest hit areas. Speaking in Damascus Tuesday, Moroccan Colonel Ahmed Himmiche said the group's mission “is a difficult process [that] requires coordination and planning…we should move step by step.”

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon voiced concern that the size of the monitoring mission may be too small to have an impact. He said the total mission of about 250 monitors may not be enough “considering the current situation and the vastness of the country.”

Officials say an expanded observer mission is contingent on a real cessation of hostilities. Meanwhile, world powers are considering tightening economic pressure on Syria.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said international economic sanctions have stripped Mr. Assad's government of half of its financial reserves. But he said more was needed to counter foreign assistance being provided to Damascus.

Mr. Juppe didn't name the countries, but a senior French diplomat said Russia is supplying weapons and other aid to the Assad regime. The diplomat also said Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq were still trading with Syria.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused unspecified external forces of seeking to undermine Mr. Annan's efforts to end more than a year of bloodshed in Syria, saying support for government foes is threatening the fragile cease-fire.

In televised remarks Tuesday, Lavrov said such actors “are doing this by delivering arms to the Syrian opposition and stimulating the activity of rebels who continue to attack both government and civilian facilities.”

Russia has provided Syria's government with weapons and – along with China – shielded Mr. Assad by blocking U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning his government for a crackdown which the U.N. says has killed more than 9,000 people since March 2011.