Death toll mounts as U.N. observers admit tough task to firm up Syria ceasefire

Moroccan Colonel Ahmed Himmiche (L), who leads an advance team of six observers in Syria, said that they would move forward one step at a time. (Reuters)

U.N. observers have acknowledged that they face a tough task to firm up a ceasefire in Syria, as scores of people were killed in the latest violence on the sixth day of a tenuous truce.

As many as 70 people have been killed by the Syrian forces, 40 of which were in the besieged Idlib, a northwestern province close to the Turkish border, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists at the Local Coordination Committees.

Colonel Ahmed Himmiche, the Moroccan heading an advance team of six members preparing for the deployment of a 30-person mission, said Tuesday that the observers would move forward one step at a time.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was still “hoping for the best” but was discussing with other powers what to do in the event the peace plan collapses.

She is expected to attend international talks on Syria being hastily arranged by France for Thursday.

Clinton’s Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, pointed the finger at the opposition and called on its foreign supporters to press the rebels to honor the hard-won truce.

Besides Idlib, shelling killed and wounded dozens of people at Basr al-Harir in southern Deraa province, cradle of the 13-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The rebel districts of Khaldiyeh and Bayyada in the flashpoint central city of Homs also came under renewed shelling, the British-based watchdog added, according to AFP.

The opposition Syrian National Council accused the regime of “flagrant violations of the ceasefire” and called on the U.N. observers to “travel to Idlib and Homs immediately to see first-hand the massacres which the regime is carrying out and has not stopped carrying out.”

U.N. diplomats said Syria was holding up an accord with the advance party of ceasefire monitors which threatens approval for the full planned mission of around 250 people.

Negotiations have become deadlocked on a memorandum of understanding which would allow the eight U.N. monitors currently in Syria to operate across the country, diplomats said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria to give the unarmed military observers free access across the country.

Doha meeting

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi (L) and Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani after a meeting of a committee of ministers from the Arab League in Doha. (Reuters)

U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who brokered the peace plan, travelled to Qatar for a ministerial meeting of the Arab League on the crisis Tuesday, his spokesman said.

Annan delivered a status report to Arab League ministers, who called on Assad to let the U.N. observers do their job.

“We fully support Mr Annan and his six-point plan, but sadly, the killing still goes on,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabr Al Thani told reporters after the meeting, according to Reuters. “We are fearful that the regime is playing for time. We expressed this to Mr Annan.”

Assad, who agreed the peace plan with Annan more than three weeks ago, has not yet fulfilled its primary demand - that tanks, troops and big guns be withdrawn from populated areas and all forms of violence cease.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia say it is time to arm the Free Syrian Army with weapons to combat Syria’s powerful, Russian-armed forces. But other Arab League states say this would tip the crisis into all-out civil war threatening the wider region.

Clinton, speaking in Brazil, called on Damascus to honor Annan’s plan in full, not just the promised ceasefire.

“What the Assad regime needs to do is to make clear that they’re going to silence their guns, withdraw their troops and work toward fulfilling the six-point plan,” she said.

No desire to intervene militarily

U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan attended a meeting of a committee of ministers from the Arab League in Doha. (Reuters)

Complying with the plan also means allowing peaceful demonstrations, releasing political prisoners and allowing a peaceful political transition to begin, Clinton added.

The West has shown no desire to intervene militarily or push for the sort of robust peacekeeping mission that would likely require at least 50,000 troops. Russia and China have made clear they would block a U.N. mandate to use force.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said “stronger sanctions” against Damascus must be adopted to “pressure the Syrian regime” and erode its resources.

Juppe has invited several of his fellow foreign ministers to talks in Paris on Thursday on ways to boost the pressure on Syria, a government source said.

“We know that the Syrian authorities, whose financial reserves have, according to our information, been cut in half, are actively seeking alternative ways to get round these sanctions,” he warned.

Clinton is set to attend those talks, a U.S. official said Wednesday during a flight with the U.S. Secretary of State from Brasilia to Brussels.

The advance team of military observers had arrived in Damascus late on Sunday, and the Local Coordination Committees activist group said that “cars carrying the observers arrived in Deraa accompanied by army vehicles.”

A spike in deadly violence forced the Arab League to end its own Syrian monitoring mission in late January, barely a month after sending observers.

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem will visit China on Wednesday, Beijing announced, to showcase efforts taken by Damascus to execute the U.N. ceasefire.

Syria blames a year of escalating violence on “terrorists” seeking to topple Assad. It restricts independent journalists’ access to the country, making it hard to verify reports.

The U.N. says Syrian forces have killed more than 9,000 people in the uprising. Syrian authorities say foreign-backed militants have killed more than 2,600 soldiers and police.

Comments »

Post Your Comment »

Social Media »