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Death toll mounts as Saudi Arabia says Syria not committed to Annan’s plan

Nearly 60 people were killed on Monday in violence across Syria, the majority of them civilians from government shelling and gunfire in the central city of Hama, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.

“Thirty one civilians were killed by gunfire from government forces in the neighborhood of Arbaeen in the city of Hama,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It said 16 others died in the northwest province of Idlib. Thirteen of them, including women and children, were killed by a mine blast in the village of Jarjanaz, the Britain-based watchdog said, according to AFP.

The other casualties, among them five soldiers, died in unrest elsewhere.

The violence was taking place despite a ceasefire that went into effect April 12 and the presence of U.N. monitors.

Syria not committed to ceasefire

The Syrian government did not abide by its commitment towards the six-point plan of the U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah al-Muallemy, said.

Addressing a Security Council session, the Saudi envoy said that Assad’s regime continues in the killing and suppression of the Syrian people, Al Arabiya reported on Tuesday.

Syrian troops killed scores of civilians in the city of Hama, monitors said, as U.N. military observers toured protest centers near the capital.

The persistent bloodshed 11 days into a ceasefire sparked growing criticism from opposition activists of the fledgling U.N. mission, which still numbers just eight observers out of a planned initial deployment of 30.

Despite concerns over the mounting violence that the U.N. says has left over 9,000 people dead in 13 months of fighting, U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon gave the go-ahead for the deployment of 300 ceasefire monitors to Syria from next week.

Ban insisted Monday that the government President Bashar al-Assad ensure the protection of the unarmed observers and allow them to travel freely throughout the country.

His political chief B. Lynn Pascoe however told the U.N. Security Council that Assad's compliance with a ceasefire plan “remains incomplete,” according to AFP.

Expectations

“We are all sober in our expectations,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who is president of the Security Council for April, told the council, according to Reuters.

“The regime’s long track record is one of dependable deceit and deception,” she said. “Thus this U.N. mission is unusually risky and dangerous. The Syrian regime should make no mistake, we will be watching its actions day and night.”

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem wrote to Annan, who brokered the truce, on Saturday to inform him that Damascus has now withdrawn heavy weapons and troops from Syrian cities, according to Syria's U.N. envoy, Bashar Jaafari.

Government troops strafed the Arbaeen neighborhood of the central city of Hama and its environs on Monday with light and heavy machine guns, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in reporting the civilian deaths.

Video footage posted online by activists showed mortar rounds hitting the area, with plumes of smoke rising to the sky.

The U.N. observers visited several rebel suburbs near the capital and were met by thousands of protesters demanding the collapse of the regime.

Monitors also visited the town of Zabadani, where regime forces and rebel fighters have clashed repeatedly in past months.

Activists’ videos showed monitors passing by army tanks posted in the streets, despite a call within Annan’s six-point peace plan for the withdrawal of armor from residential areas.

Annan is due to brief the Security Council for the third time at 1900 GMT on Tuesday on his efforts to mediate in the Syrian crisis. He will speak to the closed meeting by video-conference, diplomats said.

However, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad stressed his government’s “total commitment to respecting the Annan plan,” adding that the “armed terrorist groups” -- a reference to the rebels -- had not yet accepted it.

Calling for a political solution

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi called for a political process to resolve the crisis.

“A political solution cannot be considered separately from today's goal of achieving a ceasefire,” Arabi told reporters.

Two members of the advance team of observers set up base Sunday in the central city of Homs, scene of some of the fiercest fighting between troops and rebels since the outbreak of the revolt against Assad.

State news agency SANA said the military observers sent to monitor the April 12 ceasefire toured the battered city’s al-Waer neighborhood.

Activists have been skeptical of the U.N. mission, saying the regime was simply buying time and was not committed to the ceasefire plan.

Despite a lull in the fighting in regions visited by the observers, the violence has continued unabated in other areas, including Damascus, Hama and Deraa provinces, they say.

In a sign of Western frustration with Damascus, the European Union agreed to slap new sanctions on the regime, banning luxury goods exports and further restricting the sale of items used to repress dissidents.

Brussels also expanded the blacklist of dual-use goods that can be used to crack down on the population or manufacture equipment used for internal repression.

U.S. President Barack Obama ordered sanctions and visa bans for companies and individuals providing technological know-how, computers or other equipment that help Syria and its main regional ally Iran oppress their people.

Obama said in an executive order that the two nations had committed serious human rights abuses through network disruption and by using tracking technology and by perpetrating the “malign use of technology.”

A Muslim charity, meanwhile, said that around 300 Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan had escaped a Syrian army ambush near the border but more than 30 of them had been wounded by gunfire.

“The Jordanian army switched off the lights on the border when the shooting started to prevent snipers from killing the refugees,” Zayed Hammad, head of the Ketab and Sunna Society, told AFP. One of the wounded had since died.

In Lebanon, another neighbor, the national news agency NNA said two Lebanese and a Syrian national were arrested with a van loaded with arms and rockets headed in the direction of the border with Syria.

Thus this U.N. mission is unusually risky and dangerous. The Syrian regime should make no mistake, we will be watching its actions day and night

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice