Syrian forces killed six people and shelled rebel areas of Homs on Saturday in the first such shelling since a ceasefire began two days ago and ahead of a U.N. Security Council vote on a Western-drafted resolution that would send observers to monitor a shaky truce.
Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed four civilians as they opened fire at a funeral procession of a demonstrator in Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
State television aired footage of youths burning tires and hurling stones in the Aleppo district of Izaa, and accused gunmen of fanning out in the area and opening fire at random.
Troops also shelled the Jurat al-Shayah and al-Qarabis districts of the central city of Homs, killing one civilian, the Observatory said.
Except for the old quarters, where dissidents remain active, regime forces control most of Homs since they overran the rebel stronghold district of Baba Amr at the beginning of last month.
Farther south, in the town of Dmeir outside Damascus, security forces opened fire on a car, killing one civilian and wounding two, the watchdog said.
Meanwhile, two soldiers were killed in an attack on their car in the southern province of Daraa, the Observatory said.
“In general, it is quiet, except for some violations (of the ceasefire),” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “The numbers of people being killed are down, and that is something positive.”
The death came after six civilians were killed on Friday as tens of thousands marched across Syria, heeding calls by the opposition to take advantage of the U.N.-backed truce that went into force at dawn on Thursday.
The United States called for a vote at the U.N. Security Council after a second day of wrangling with Russia over security guarantees for the first 30 unarmed military monitors who U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan wants in Syria early next week.
On Saturday, demonstrations were staged in several areas, according to videos posted on the Internet by activists.
“Activate the revolution. It is ours. Syria is free,” chanted hundreds of people in the village of Kfar Roma, in the northern province of Idlib.
In Daraa province, the cradle of dissent against Assad's regime, hundreds turned out in the village of Inkhel.
“We shall not give up until the regime falls,” they chanted.
Russia also opposed the council demanding that Assad’s regime carry out a promise to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was not “completely satisfied” with the talks held at the U.N. on Friday. Russia and China have vetoed two previous Security Council resolutions on Syria.
Negotiations had been “rather difficult,” he said, while insisting that Russia wants a vote on Saturday that allows the Syrian ceasefire to be “reinforced.”
Neither the United States nor its allies are certain that the resolution would escape a new veto.
“It would be wise not to make predictions,” said U.S. ambassador Susan Rice.
“There was a negotiation, there is not yet an agreement,” France’s U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters. “It’s very tough, but there will be a vote tomorrow in any case.”
A Security Council diplomat said: “A veto cannot be ruled out. It would be catastrophic for Syria if it happens.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Assad’s ceasefire declaration was insincere and renewed a call for the creation of aid passages, without saying how these could be protected.
“I firmly believe the international community should live up to its responsibilities and create the conditions for humanitarian corridors so that these poor people who are being massacred can escape a dictator,” he said
A new version
A new version of the resolution drafted by the United States with Britain and France was sent to other council members late Friday for national governments to decide which way to vote.
Russia has also registered a shorter version of the draft for an eventual vote.
Both versions authorize the first 30 monitors in an observer force that would swell to more than 200 if the ceasefire firms up.
The U.N. says well over 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad’s regime erupted in March last year.
Annan has asked for approval for the monitors and for the council to call for all six points of his peace plan to be carried out. The Syrian government has yet to pull troops and heavy weapons out of protest cities.
The text proposed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Morocco and Colombia demands “full, unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement” for the observers and that Assad “implement visibly” commitments made to Annan.
The council could also “consider further steps as appropriate”.
Russia submitted a shorter version of the same text taking out the demand for “unimpeded” access for monitors and the warning of new measures. It also takes out a condemnation of human rights abuses in Syria.
A diplomat in the negotiations said Russia, the last major ally of Assad, had been “haggling over every phrase” in the draft text.
Churkin said Russia wanted a brief resolution to get “some boots on the ground” and then negotiate the mandate for the full mission.
Despite their past vetoes on Syria, Russia and China have given strong support to Annan’s six-point peace plan and say they are putting increased pressure on Damascus.
U.N. diplomats say Russia supports Annan’s peace efforts but is working hard to shield Damascus from what it fears is a Western push for Libyan-style “regime change” to dislodge Moscow from its only geo-strategic foothold in the Middle East.
The United States and European powers say however that there must be specific security guarantees and terms set out to the Syrian government before the advance team leaves.