AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
DAMASCUS: Syrian forces were locked in fierce gunfights with rebels in one city and shelled another today, hours after UN peacekeepers arrived to oversee a truce aimed at ending a year of bloodshed.
President Bashar al-Assad’s forces killed three civilians and were fighting rebels at Idlib in the northwest, while also shelling the flashpoint central city of Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Since a UN-backed ceasefire came into force at dawn on Thursday, at least 55 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in violence that prompted UN chief Ban Ki-moon to urge Syria to ensure the truce does not collapse.
The Observatory said today that 11,117 people have been killed in 13 months of unrest — 7,972 civilians and 3,145 military and gunmen, including fewer than than 600 rebel fighters.
In Brussels, Ban called on Damascus to exercise “maximum restraint” and the opposition to “fully cooperate” to cement the shaky ceasefire. An advance team of six international observers arrived in Damascus late yesterday, the United Nations said.
The delegation — the first of 30 monitors the UN Security Council approved on Saturday — will set up a headquarters and prepare routines to verify a cessation of hostilities.
“They’ve arrived and they will start work on Monday morning,” UN peacekeeping department spokesman Kieran Dwyer said. “The other monitors in the advance party are still expected in Syria in coming days.”
The remainder would come from around the Middle East and Africa “so we can move people quickly and they are experienced in the region,” he said.
Their mission is just one part of the six-point peace plan that Syria agreed with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The observers were welcomed by Syria, which hoped they would see for themselves the “crimes” committed by “armed terrorist groups,” said the state news agency SANA.
They face a perilous task, with Western nations doubting Assad’s commitment to the ceasefire amid reports his forces have kept battering rebel strongholds and clashed with rebels.
Today, security forces killed two civilians when they fired on a car in Hama, and shot dead another in the town of Inkhel, southern Daraa province, where the uprising erupted in March 2011, said the Observatory.
Elsewhere, fierce fighting erupted at dawn between Assad’s forces and rebels in the city of Idlib, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Regime forces resumed shelling rebel neighbourhoods of Khaldiyeh and Bayyada in the central city of Homs, a day after at least five civilians were killed there.
Ban voiced concern over the shelling of Homs.
“I am very much concerned about what has happened since yesterday and today,” he said.
Alarm over arrests
DAMASCUS: A Syrian rights activist expressed alarm on Monday after the arrest of 42 protesters among 500 people holding a candle-lit vigil outside parliament last week to demand an end to killings. A group of youths carrying candles staged the sit-in on Thursday in front of the parliament building in Damascus, “demanding an end to the killings,” said Anwar Bunni, who heads the Centre for Legal Research and Studies.