The U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously adopted a resolution to increase the number of international monitors in Syria from 30 to 300 and renewed demands for an immediate halt to violence that continues to rock the country despite a cease-fire agreement.
The resolution gives Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon authority to decide when to deploy the additional observers, based on developments on the grounds including “the consolidation of the cease-fire.”
Ban accused Syrian President Bashar Assad Thursday of failing to honor the cease-fire, expressing dismay at the upsurge in violence.
The resolution merges rival Russian and European texts and dropped a European threat of non-military sanctions if Syria fails to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities.
A small team of observers currently deployed in Syria entered the battered city of Homs on Saturday after government forces halted their shelling there for the first time in weeks.
U.N. spokesman Khaled al-Masri said the monitored met with the governor of Homs and were “now visiting districts of the city.”
Activists in Homs said the shelling ceased only to make it look as if the government was abiding by a truce, mediated by international Peace Envoy Kofi Annan. They said that shelling would resume as soon as the monitors left.
“It is very clear that the Syrian government can stop the violence whenever it wants at any time in the country,” Walid al-Fares, an opposition activist living in Homs told Reuters.
The small advance team of monitors, who had previously been prevented from visiting Homs for “security reasons,” were able to enter the battered district of Baba Amr.
Regime forces shelled Baba Amr for a month, leaving hundreds dead according to monitors, before retaking it from rebels on March 1. Two Western journalists were among those killed.
Free army hails U.N. vote
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) hailed the U.N. Security Council vote to send observers.
“We salute the dispatch of new observers,” FSA spokesman Colonel Kassem Saadeddine told AFP through a Skype call from Homs province.
The rebel army remains “committed to the ceasefire” that went into effect on April 12 as part of a plan designed by peace envoy Annan.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, reported a huge blast at a military airport in the Damascus district of Mazzeh.
“A loud explosion was heard at the Mazzeh military airport in Damascus,” the Observatory reported, but provided no further details.
Activists told AFP that the army blocked the road leading to the military airbase while snipers took positions on the rooftops of buildings in the area.