Fighting in Syria Kills 17 as UN Monitors Visit 2 Towns

Posted April 22nd, 2012 at 4:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrian activists say attacks by government and rebel forces have killed 16 people across the country as a small U.N. team visited more towns to monitor a 10-day old truce that has failed to end the year-long conflict.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says soldiers backed by tanks stormed the opposition hub of Douma near Damascus on Sunday, firing artillery and machine guns and killing two people. They say four soldiers also were killed in the district when a roadside bomb struck their armored personnel carrier.

Elsewhere, the Observatory says Syrian security forces killed six people in the central province of Homs and four people in other areas, including the northern region of Idlib. Syrian state news agency SANA says a roadside bomb also struck a convoy in the country's north, killing an officer and raising the day's death toll to at least 17. None of Sunday's casualties could be independently confirmed.

Several unarmed U.N. truce monitors who have been stationed in Syria for the past week visited the opposition stronghold of Rastan and the central city of Hama on Sunday. Amateur video showed Free Syrian Army rebels escorting the monitors in Rastan, while Syrian state television showed the U.N. personnel touring Hama.

The U.N. Security Council voted Saturday to expand the U.N. observer mission in Syria from 30 to 300 members in the hope of salvaging the April 12 cease-fire mediated by international envoy Kofi Annan. Fighting between government and rebel forces has eased in some areas when observers are present, but has continued in others.

In a statement released Sunday, Mr. Annan praised the Security Council resolution as a “pivotal moment” in stabilizing Syria. He urged security forces and rebel fighters to put down their weapons and work with the U.N. observers to consolidate the cease-fire.

But Mr. Annan singled out the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying it has a “particular” duty to desist from using heavy weapons and honor its pledge to withdraw them from population centers. He also called on the government and its opponents to prepare for a political process to resolve their conflict, which began in March 2011 an uprising against Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule.

The U.N. resolution says the expansion of the monitoring team depends on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon making an “assessment” about the security situation in Syria and the compliance of security forces and rebels with the terms of the truce.

A spokeswoman for the exiled opposition Syrian National Council said Sunday the U.N. Security Council's approval of a 300-strong observer mission in Syria is not enough to protect people from government attacks. After meeting Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby in Cairo, Basma Kodmani called for at least 3,000 monitors to be sent to Syria quickly.

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in the Syrian government's 13-month crackdown on dissent, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.