Annan Alarmed by Reports of Syrian Attacks in Areas Visited by Monitors

Posted April 24th, 2012 at 5:40 pm (UTC-5)
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International envoy Kofi Annan has expressed “alarm” about media reports that Syrian security forces have launched attacks in civilian areas visited by U.N. soldiers trying to monitor a shaky truce in the government's year-long conflict with rebels.

U.N. diplomats say Mr. Annan made the comment Tuesday in a closed-door briefing to the Security Council via video link from Sweden. They quote Mr. Annan as saying he is aware of reports that Syrian troops fired automatic weapons and killed a significant number of people in the central city of Hama on Monday. Several U.N. observers had visited the opposition hub a day earlier and were greeted by large crowds chanting anti-government slogans.

Mr. Annan said if confirmed, the Hama killings are”totally unacceptable and reprehensible.” He said two of the 11 U.N. monitors deployed in Syria returned to the city on Tuesday to set up a base. Observer mission spokesman Neeraj Singh said the monitors also visited the Damascus suburb of Douma, talking to residents and conducting patrols “for a good period of time.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said harassment and possible violence against Syrians who meet with U.N. monitors is “absolutely deplorable” and called on the Syrian government to “silence the guns.” She made the comments in Washington.

The small group of U.N. truce monitors has been operating in Syria for more than a week, visiting rebellious areas such as Hama, Homs and the Damascus suburbs where government forces have been violently suppressing dissent for months. Diplomats quote Mr. Annan as saying that without “comprehensive” monitoring of the April 12 cease-fire, it is difficult to assess the level of violence in the country.

The U.N. Security Council has approved an expansion of the observer mission in Syria to 300 personnel, but it is not clear when the additional monitors will be deployed. Exiled Syrian opposition leaders say that number is too small to cover Syria's territory.

Earlier, a spokesman for Mr. Annan said Syria has failed to honor a pledge to withdraw heavy weapons from population centers as required by the U.N.-backed truce. Ahmad Fawzi said Tuesday Mr. Annan's team has satellite imagery and credible reports showing the Syrian government's promised pullout of weapons “has not fully happened.” Fawzi called this “unacceptable.”

In the latest violence on Tuesday, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA that gunmen killed a Syrian intelligence officer in the Barzeh neighborhood of Damascus. In another incident, a vehicle rigged with explosives blew up in the capital's central Marjeh district, wounding several people. Syrian state media blamed the attack on “armed terrorists” whom they say are leading the anti-Assad uprising.

In Geneva, the U.N. World Food Program said it aims to deliver food assistance to 500,000 people in Syria “in the coming weeks” — a tenfold increase since December. The WFP said it is expanding its assistance at the request of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and stands ready to increase its operations in the country further “when access permits.”

U.N. aid agencies have been largely shut out of Syria, but a joint assessment carried out last month with Syrian authorities estimated that at least one million people needed humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, Tunisian President Moncef al-Marzouki said his embattled Syrian counterpart is “finished” and will eventually leave power “dead or alive.” Mr. Marzouki told the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper Tuesday that Mr. Assad's international allies, “the Russians, Chinese and Iranians, must understand this man is finished and…persuade him to leave power.”

Addressing the Syrian leader directly, the Tunisian president said “it is better for you and your family to leave alive, because if you decide to leave dead, that means that you have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents.”

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