UN monitors in Syria
Photo: Reuters

Syria: 55 killed since truce went into force

Fierce clashes reported between army, defectors in Idlib; 3 civilians killed by Assad forces. UN chief demands full freedom of movement for monitors

Syrian activists said the army on Monday once again shelled the Bayada and Khalidiya districts in the city of Homs with heavy mortars. A video posted by them on YouTube showed explosions followed by clouds of smoke and dust.


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Fierce clashes between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and army defectors were reported in the Idlib district in northwestern Syria.


According to the opposition, three civilians were killed Monday by Syrian army forces. Two of the civilians were killed in Aleppo, opposition sources reported.


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Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday the Syrian government is responsible for guaranteeing UN observers full freedom of movement to monitor the country's tenuous ceasefire.


Even though the overall level of violence across Syria has dropped significantly since the truce took effect Thursday, the government's shelling of Homs over the weekend raised fresh doubts about President Bashar Assad's commitment to special envoy Kofi Annan's plan to end 13 months of violence and launch talks on the country's political future.


An advance team of six observers arrived in Damascus late Sunday and quickly set about negotiating the mission's ground rules with Syrian authorities.


Ban, speaking to reporters in Brussels, called on Assad to ensure the observers are not impeded in any way in their work.


"It is the Syrian government's responsibility to guarantee freedom of access, freedom of movement within the country," he said Monday. "They should be allowed to freely move to any places where they will be able to observe this cessation of violence."


He called the ceasefire "very fragile," but said it was essential that it hold so that an "inclusive political dialogue can continue." He said opposition forces "should also fully cooperate."


The UN plans to increase the advance team to 30 people, all of them unarmed, Ban said, adding that the Security Council is expected to authorize a formal monitoring team of about 250 people later this week.


The advance team, led by Moroccan Col. Ahmed Himmiche, met Monday with Syrian Foreign Ministry officials to discuss ground rules, including what freedom of movement the observers would have, according to Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi.


Although the Security Council has demanded full access for the UN team, Assad's 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 monitors, including having to travel with government minders.


Fawzi said in a statement issued in Geneva on Monday that the mission "will start with setting up operating headquarters, and reaching out to the Syrian government and the opposition forces so that both sides fully understand the role of the UN observers."


"We will start our mission as soon as possible and we hope it will be a success," Himmiche told The Associated Press as he left a Damascus hotel along with his team Monday morning.


According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 11,100 people have been killed in 13 months of unrest in Syria, including 55 since the UN-backed ceasefire took effect four days ago.


Associated Press, Reuters contributed to the report




פרסום ראשון: 04.16.12, 16:30
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