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Shelling begins hours after UN monitors arrive in Syria

United Nations monitors have arrived in Syria in order to observe the four-day-old ceasefire in the country. But fighting is said to have resumed already.

Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Ja'afari
Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Ja'afari
Image: AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

UN MONITORS HAVE arrived in Syria to observe the four-day-old ceasefire – but there are reports that fighting has already begun.

Monitors

At the weekend, the UN authorised the sending of the advance team who would report on the implementation of a full cessation of armed violence. Their arrival in the country is pending the deployment of a UN supervision mission that will be tasked with monitoring the ceasefire.

It called on all parties to guarantee the safety of the team and said the primary responsibility for carrying out those requirements lay with the Syrian authorities.

A six-member advance team of UN observers arrived in Syria Sunday night and the remaining 25 observers are expected to arrive within days.

The observers will be “on the ground in blue helmets tomorrow,” said Kofi Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, yesterday. He said the team will quickly grow to between 25-30, drawn from the region and elsewhere. However, the terms of deployment of the larger contingent of 250 still have to be negotiated, he said.

Annan’s peace plan says a truce and the deployment of observers must be followed by talks between the regime and the opposition about Syria’s political future. It’s the first peace initiative to have broad backing, including from Russia and China.

Violence

However, activists say Syrian troops are shelling neighbourhoods in the opposition stronghold of Homs, hours after the arrival of the UN truce monitors to Damascus. The Local Coordination Committees and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said two people were killed in Hama in central Syria today when security forces opened fire on their car.

The violence raises new doubts about President Bashar Assad’s commitment to a plan by special envoy Annan to end 13 months of violence.

Assad accepted the truce deal at the prodding of his main ally, Russia, but his compliance has been limited. He has halted shelling of rebel-held neighborhoods, with the exception of Homs, but ignored calls to pull troops out of urban centers. Rebel fighters have also kept up attacks.

Stabilising the cease-fire

The international community hopes UN observers will be able to stabilise the cease-fire, which formally took effect Thursday.

UN Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon expressed serious concern at the Syrian government’s shelling of Homs and said “the whole world is watching with sceptical eyes” whether the cease-fire can be sustained.

With Assad seen as a reluctant participant in Annan’s plan, the observers’ success will depend on how much access they can negotiate in Syria and how quickly the team can grow to a full contingent, analysts said.

Freedom of Movement

The Security Council demanded freedom of movement for the UN team, but the regime could try to create obstacles; the failure of an Arab League observer mission earlier this year was blamed in part on regime restrictions imposed on the visitors.

“This will be a serious cat-and-mouse game between the government and the UN for weeks to come,” George Lopez, a professor of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana said of the new observer mission.

- Additional reporting AP

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