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Nine dead as Syrian troops shell Homs ahead of UN resolution vote

The reported bombardment came as the UN prepared to vote on a resolution authorising the deployment of the first wave of military observers to monitor the ceasefire.

This image made from amateur video and released by Syrian Media Centre Friday, April 13, 2012 purports to show a dead body next to Syrian soldiers in Daraa, Syria
This image made from amateur video and released by Syrian Media Centre Friday, April 13, 2012 purports to show a dead body next to Syrian soldiers in Daraa, Syria
Image: AP Photo/Douma Revolution in Syria via AP video

Updated 15.20

SYRIAN TROOPS AND rebel gunmen carried out attacks across Syria on Saturday, killing at least nine people in a surge of violence that threatened a UN-brokered cease-fire. The bloodshed came as the UN Security Council considered whether to send the first wave of military observers to monitor the fragile truce between the two sides.

The heaviest fighting was reported in the central city of Homs where regime forces shelled rebel-held neighborhoods, while rebel fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades at an area of regime loyalists. In Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, regime forces opened fire on mourners at a funeral, while rebel gunmen ambushed a car carrying soldiers in the southern province of Daraa.

The two sides have traded allegations of scattered violations since the truce formally took effect Thursday. However, Saturday’s reports of the use of heavier weapons suggested the cease-fire was coming under increasing jeopardy.

The cease-fire is at the center of a broadly backed peace plan by special envoy Kofi Annan. It is aimed at ending the 13-month-old conflict that has killed over 9,000 people and launching talks on the country’s political future.

UN vote

The reported bombardment came as the United Nations Security Council prepared to vote on a resolution authorising the deployment of the first wave of UN military observers to monitor the ceasefire between the Syrian government and opposition fighters.

Since the truce brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan came into effect, far fewer deaths have been reported than from the daily norm of clashes and shelling before the truce.

The regime restricts access of foreign observers, including journalists, making it difficult to verify reports of violence independently.

No reports of causalities

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the shelling on Saturday morning in Homs lasted for about an hour and there were no reports of casualties. It said another wave of mortar rounds hit the neighbourhoods later in the day.

Activist Tarek Badrakhan, who is based in the rebel-held Homs neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh, and the Observatory said the shelling targeted the neighbourhoods of Jouret el-Shayah and Qarabees.

In Homs, which has been one of the hardest hit areas in Syria in the past 13 months and became the symbol of Syria’s uprising, the sporadic shelling started Friday night and continued into Saturday morning, Badrakhan said.

“I can see black smoke billowing from a building that was hit in Jouret el-Shayah,” Badrakhan told The Associated Press via Skype.

A video posted by activist online said to be taken in Homs showed shells landing in a heavily damaged street.

The Local Coordination Committees activist group said troops fired live bullets and tear gas at a funeral in the northern city of Aleppo. It had no word on casualties. The Observatory said three people were wounded in the shooting at the funeral.

Also, troops were conducting a wave of arrests in the Damascus suburb of Dumair when a car exploded killing one civilian and wounding two others, the Observatory said. It gave no further details.

The Syrian state media reported apparent rebel attacks. State-run news agency SANA said gunmen on Saturday kidnapped army Col. Mohammed Eid in a suburb of the central city of Hama while on his way to work.

It also reported that gunmen stormed the house of local politician Mohammed Ismail al-Ahmad in the northern town of Tin and shot him, then took him to an unknown location, SANA said. The agency said Ahmad had been planning to run for parliament.

Tens of thousands of protesters

On Friday, Syrian forces have used live fire, tear gas and clubs to beat back tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets across the country in powerful and often jubilant displays of defiance.

But the reported death toll from the rallies — six people — was much less than the usual for a Friday, where demonstrators spill out onto the streets after midday prayers. The rallies meanwhile were described as some of the largest in months.

Other incidents after the ceasefire went into effect included 20 people wounded when security forces opened fire at protesters in the southern village of Jassim late Friday, activists said.

Gunmen shot dead Shiite Muslim cleric Sayyed Nasser al-Elwi in the Damascus suburb of Sayeda Zeinab late Friday, Syria-based activist Mohammed Suleiman Khalil said. The Observatory confirmed the killing. It was not clear why the cleric was killed but many in the opposition see members of the Shiite minority sect as supporters of President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Security Council meeting

UN Security Council members met behind closed doors for several hours Friday to discuss rival drafts by the US and its European allies and by Russia, Syria’s most important council ally.

Both called for the deployment of an advance team of up to 30 unarmed military observers to initiate contacts with both sides and begin to report on implementation of “a full cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties.”

The ceasefire, which formally took effect Thursday, is at the center of Annan’s peace plan, which is aimed at ending more than a year of bloodshed that has killed over 9,000 people, according to the United Nations, and to launch inclusive Syrian-led talks on the country’s political future.

In Germany, the Der Spiegel weekly said the German government said it was looking into a report that weapons bound for the Syrian regime were loaded onto a German-owned ship. Der Spiegel said the Atlantic Cruiser was halted in the Mediterranean after its owners were warned it was suspected to be carrying Iranian military equipment to Tartus, Syria.

Der Spiegel quoted shipping agent Torsten Lueddeke of Hamburg-based CEG Bulk Chartering as saying: “We stopped the ship after we received information on the weapons cargo.” He said the ship was chartered to Ukraine-based White Whale Shipping, and they said the ship was carrying pumps and similar equipment.

Neither CEG nor the ship’s owner were immediately reachable. The German Economy Ministry said it looks into all suspected embargo breaches but didn’t yet have details of the case.

UN observers expected to monitor Syrian ceasefire>

Syrians report heavy shelling – one day after ceasefire deadline>

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Associated Press

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