Syrian Troops Attack Damascus Suburb

Posted April 22nd, 2012 at 6:15 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian activists say government soldiers backed by tanks have killed three people near Damascus, even as international envoy Kofi Annan called the U.N. Security Council's decision to deploy 300 cease-fire monitors in Syria a “pivotal moment” for the country.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported shelling and heavy gunfire Sunday as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stormed the Damascus suburb of Douma.

Opposition activists said the embattled flashpoint city of Homs also endured another day of heavy shelling Sunday after a temporary halt the day before when a small advance team of U.N. monitors toured the city. Two observers spent the night in Homs.

VOA cannot independently verify reports of violence and deaths, as the government has severely restricted access by international media.

In Geneva, Mr. Annan called on both Syrian government forces and opposition fighters to put down their weapons and work with the unarmed observers to consolidate the fragile cease-fire put in place 10 days ago.

He said the government in particular “must desist from the use of heavy weapons,…withdraw [them] from population centers and implement fully its commitments under the six-point [peace] plan'' accepted by both sides to end 13 months of violence.

The Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to expand the U.N. truce monitor force to 300 observers for an initial period of 90 days in hopes of salvaging the April 12 cease-fire marred by continued fighting between the military and opposition rebels.

The measure gives U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon authority to make an “assessment” on whether it is safe to deploy monitors. His decision will be based on developments in Syria that include a cessation of violence.

Mr. Ban has accused the Syrian president of violating the truce, and said Saturday that “the gross violations of the fundamental rights of the Syrian people must stop at once.” Rebel fighters have also kept up attacks.

After the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice accused Syria of “broken promises” and “deceit,” and said the monitoring mission alone could not halt unrest in the country.

Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, welcomed the arrival of more monitors. However, he accused the international community of continuously accusing his government of violence while ignoring crimes committed by armed opposition groups.

The Security Council had already approved an advance team of 30 monitors, but analysts say many more observers are needed to carry out the U.N. mission.

The U.N. estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria's more than year-long crackdown on dissent, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.