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Damascus, UN Agree On Rules For Monitors

The head of the advance UN monitoring mission in Syria has called for patient in carrying out the task.
Officials say Syria and the UN have reached a protocol agreement on the deployment of observers for the country's cease-fire.

A spokesman for peace envoy Kofi Annan said the agreement covered the functions of the observers and Syrian government's responsibilities.

It came after the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said Syria was failing to comply with its obligations under an international peace plan.

He also called for the observer mission to be expanded to 300, 50 more than originally planned.

Ban's proposal, however, has been rejected by the Syrian government.

Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that 250 is a "reasonable and logical" number of observers to monitor his country's cease-fire.

Muallem also said the monitors should come from what he termed "neutral" countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, all of which have been more sympathetic to Assad than the West and the Arab League states.

Meanwhile, in Paris, 14 foreign ministers from the Friends of Syria contact group are expected to meet on Thursday to discuss the shaky cease-fire, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The meeting will be chaired by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

Russia however said it would not attend the talks, saying they were only intended to marginalize the Syrian regime and would harm the chances of direct peace talks.

French officials say the meeting will send a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is accused by many in the West of failing to uphold the cease-fire amid reports of government shelling in opposition strongholds.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned Assad will face tougher penalties if he squanders his "last chance" to implement the peace plan put together by the envoy Kofi Annan and backed by the international community.

"We are at a crucial turning point. Either we succeed in pushing forward with Kofi Annan's plan in accordance with the Security Council direction, with the help of monitors, steadily broadening and deepening a zone of non-conflict and peace, or we see Assad squandering his last chance before additional measures have to be considered," Clinton said at a NATO meeting in Brussels.

Meanwhile, there were continued reports of violence in Syria, threatening the week-long cease-fire.

Gunfire broke out when a six-member advance team of UN monitors visited a suburb of the capital Damascus where they were mobbed by anti-Assad demonstrators.

The head of the UN advance team, Colonel Ahmad Himmiche, admitted his team faced challenges but urged patience.

"Our mission is to establish liaison with the Syrian security forces and also with other parties. To establish this liaison, we need time, we need trust, we need to build confidence and trust within all the parties in order to achieve our task," Himmiche said.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

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