Last Updated: Sun Apr 29, 2012 17:27 pm (KSA) 14:27 pm (GMT)

U.N. urges respect for Syria truce as toll mounts; observers visit Homs

More than 9,000 people have been killed since March last year in Syria. (Reuters)
More than 9,000 people have been killed since March last year in Syria. (Reuters)

U.N. observers said on Sunday that it was “extremely important” that all sides respect a promised ceasefire in Syria as a veteran peacekeeper flew in to take command after a new day of bloodshed.

A mission spokesman said that an advance party of truce observers had already set up base in the major troublespots in the 13-month conflict.

He said it was a “matter of the utmost urgency” for the world body to expand the fledgling mission to the full 300 personnel authorized by the Security Council.

Meanwhile, the U.N. observers struggling to shore up a shaky cease-fire in Syria visited the embattled neighborhood in the central city of Homs Sunday, the Syrian state news agency said.

SANA said the observers toured the Khaldiyeh district, which has seen heavy government shelling and clashes between Syrian forces and rebels.

Death toll

A full 32 people were killed on Saturday, more than two weeks into the ceasefire brokered by international peace envoy Kofi Annan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Most analysts say Annan’s plan has little chance of succeeding, though it could temporarily bring down the level of daily violence.

“It is extremely important in the context of our mandate that there is full cessation of violence in all its forms by all the parties,” said mission spokesman Neeraj Singh.

“That is the necessary first imperative and that is what we are here to monitor and support.”

Singh said that even though the U.N. mission still only had a small advance team deployed, it was already on the ground in major protest centers that have been at the center of bloodshed the United Nations estimates has killed more than 9,000 people since March last year.

“Even from the advance team that was here until now, as you see, apart from Damascus, we have permanently based observers in Homs, Hama, Daraa and Idlib,” he said.

“I think things have been moving as fast as possible. This is a matter of utmost urgency for the United Nations. All efforts are in place to make sure that we get the people on the ground as quickly as possible.”

Veteran Norwegian peacekeeper Major General Robert Mood was expected in Damascus during the afternoon to take charge of the U.N. force.

Mood, 54, knows the Syrian capital well and negotiated with the authorities the conditions of deployment for the advance team.

The general “brings to his new position extensive command experience and knowledge of peacekeeping attained through service at the national and international levels,” U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said in announcing the appointment.

Mood was head of the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization, which monitors Middle East truces, from 2009 until 2011.

The general has not spoken publicly since he was nominated on Friday, but highlighted the “abyss of suspicion and violence between the Syrian regime and the opposition” in a recent interview with Norwegian media.

Mood said that when he was asked to lead the advanced team, “it was an easy choice to say yes.”

Syria says West-backed Qaeda behind bombings

Meanwhile, state newspapers on Sunday charged that al-Qaeda was operating in Syria and carrying out its trademark suicide bombings with the support of Washington and some Arab countries.

“The recent terrorist suicide bombings in several areas of Syria are not the first signs of al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria,” but now there is “clear evidence” because of the methods and choice of targets, government daily Tishrin said.

It said “Syria is facing more than armed groups consisting of criminals fleeing the justice system” but “terrorism led by al-Qaeda.”

“This gives the Syrian state full rights to protect its citizens and maintain security and stability,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

“Washington has a history of supporting terrorism” and “this is being repeated in Syria ... where terrorist groups are being funded by some Arab countries and supported by the West,” it added.

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