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Cease-Fire Erodes As First UN Monitors Arrive

  • RFE/RL

A video grab shows smoke billowing from the Damascus suburb of Douma during shelling by government forces on April 15.

A video grab shows smoke billowing from the Damascus suburb of Douma during shelling by government forces on April 15.

A fragile cease-fire in Syria appears to be quickly eroding, with violence reported even as an advance team of UN monitors arrived in the country.

Colonel Ahmed Himmiche, the leader of the UN monitors, said on April 16 following the team's arrival that the peacekeepers were "optimistic."

"We are going to organize ourselves in order to be ready to do our tasks as soon as possible," Himmiche said.

But violence in Syria shows no sign of abating, with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad continuing their assault on the city of Homs, firing tank shells and mortar rounds into opposition-held neighborhoods.

Amateur videos posted by activists show explosions and gray smoke engulfing the Khaldiyeh neighborhood of Homs, with the sound of shells and gunfire audible in the background.

Heavy clashes were also reported on April 16 between opposition fighters and Syrian Army troops in the central city of Hama and in the northern province of Idlib near the Turkish-Syrian border.

Local and British-based activists, including members the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least two people had been killed.

The shelling and clashes have raised doubts about Assad's commitment to a Western-backed plan to end 13 months of violence.

Plan Fails To Stop Violence

The cease-fire, part of a plan by UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, has been formally in place since April 12. Annan's plan also calls on regime forces and rebel forces to suspend fighting and pull troops out of urban centers.

Colonel Ahmed Himmiche, the leader of the UN monitors, said the peacekeepers were "optimistic."

Colonel Ahmed Himmiche, the leader of the UN monitors, said the peacekeepers were "optimistic."

The plan -- the first international initiative to be backed by Syria's allies China and Russia -- also calls for talks between the regime and the opposition on Syria's political future.

Assad reluctantly accepted the truce deal after being pressured by Moscow, but has failed to halt violence by security forces in Homs or to withdraw troops from high-population areas.

Opposition fighters have also violated the cease-fire by launching attacks and ambushes against government forces.

More than 40 people are thought to have been killed since the cease-fire was meant to go into effect on April 12.

The UN estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since protests against Assad's autocratic rule began in March 2011.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern about the continued violence in Homs, saying, "the whole world is watching with skeptical eyes" whether the cease-fire can be saved.

Speaking in Brussels on April 16, Ban called on all sides to honor the cease-fire and warned Assad's regime should allow UN monitors to travel freely within the country.

"It is the Syrian government's responsibility to guarantee freedom of access and freedom of movement within the country," Ban said.

"They should be allowed to freely move to any places where they will be able to observe this cessation of violence."

The six UN monitors who arrived in Syria are part of an advance team tasked with promoting the cease-fire through meetings with government authorities and opposition leaders.

More observers are expected to arrive later on April 16, with a total of 30 monitors expected on the ground by the end of the week.

The United Nations has called for a full team of 250 observers to enter Syria. That deployment will depend on the outcome of negotiations next week between the UN and Syrian authorities.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP
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