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Syrian Foreign Minister Rejects Call For More UN Monitors

Clashes In Syria As UN Monitors Arrive
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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem says that 250 is a "reasonable and logical" number of UN observers to monitor his country's cease-fire.

His statement on April 18 came one day after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested in Luxembourg that the observer mission might need to be enlarged and reinforced with aircraft:

"There is always a question whether 250 [UN monitors] will be enough," Ban said. "I think it is not enough, considering the current situation and considering the vastness of the country."

Muallem, who is holding talks in Beijing, said the UN could use Syrian aircraft if necessary to carry out its mission. He added that Syria would "respect and implement" the six-point peace plan put forward by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and will cooperate with Annan.

In Moscow on April 18, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized some Syrian opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council, for failing to agree to the Annan plan.

Lavrov said that "there are plenty of those who would like to see Annan's plan fail" in the hope of then demanding "the use of [outside] force."

Violence Continues

Reports of fighting in Syria continued on April 18, despite the week-old cease-fire. Activists with the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops were shelling four districts of the flashpoint city of Homs. Those reports have not been independently verified.

Damascus said that five security troops were killed in opposition attacks in the cities of Aleppo and Daraa. Officials also reported a clash with opposition militants in Idlib.

UN monitors arrive at a hotel in Damascus on April 18.
UN monitors arrive at a hotel in Damascus on April 18.
The dpa news agency cited opposition activists who said Syrian forces were shelling a position held by the opposition Syrian Free Army in Idlib, near the Turkish border.

Other opposition activists claimed Syrian forces fired on demonstrators outside Damascus who were calling for the release of people detained during the uprising.

The UN has said that more than 9,000 people have been killed in the 13 months since the Syrian uprising began.

Annan is scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on his mission in New York on April 19.

Ship Suspected Of Carrying Arms Stopped

Turkish officials say a Bermuda-flagged ship has docked at the port of Iskenderun after being warned by the United Nations not to sail to Syria.

The "Atlantic Cruiser," which is owned by a German company and leased by Ukraine's White Whale Shipping, is suspected of carrying Iranian arms to Syria in breach of international sanctions against Damascus.

The White Whale Shipping company has denied the allegations, saying the ship is carrying legal goods.

The German news magazine "Der Spiegel" reported that the ship loaded cargo in Djibouti earlier this week and headed toward Syria.

The German owners said the ship was loaded in India and did not take on new cargo when it docked in Djibouti.

Turkish officials are expected to search the ship later on April 19.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa
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