Syria: Homs begs UN team to intervene as violence continues
THE UN Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution expanding the number of ceasefire observers in Syria from 30 to 300 and demanding an immediate halt to the escalating violence.
The resolution, approved yesterday, gives Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon authority to decide when to deploy the additional observers, based on developments on the ground, including “the consolidation of the ceasefire” that took effect over a week ago.
Meanwhile observers already in the country toured a rebel-held district of Homs yesterday as residents chanted for military intervention to save them from president Bashar al-Assad’s security forces.
Fighting and government shelling stopped in Homs and troops hid tanks in advance of the visit by the first UN observers to tour the city. They arrived three days after Ban Ki-moon said an initial request to visit the central city “was not granted, with officials claiming security concerns”.
A video aired on Al-Jazeera television showed three observers walking in the middle of dozens of people in the Jouret el-Shayah neighbourhood. Bystanders chanted “the people want military intervention,” and “may your soul be cursed Abu Hafez”, referring to the president.
An advance team of seven UN monitors has been in Syria for about a week to assess compliance with an internationally brokered ceasefire meant to take effect on 12 April.
The team has visited several rebel areas including the southern province of Deraa and suburbs of Damascus.
But their visit to Homs is particularly important as the city and surrounding areas are among the hardest hit by the violence that has left more than 9,000 people dead over the past 13 months, according to the UN.
Western powers have pinned hopes on the plan by special international envoy Kofi Annan, who brokered the ceasefire, in part because they have few options. The UN has ruled out military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi, and several rounds of sanctions have not stopped the bloodshed.
A Homs official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the team met the governor before the tour. The Local Co-ordination Committee’s activist group said the team visited the neighbourhoods of Jouret el-Shayah and Qarabees then headed to the rebel-held area of Khaldiyeh.
The UN advance team did not go out on Friday, the day anti-Assad protests are usually held, in a blow to protesters’ hopes. Head of the team, Colonel Ahmed Himiche, said they stayed in “because we don’t want to be used as a tool for escalating the situation”.
Activists say Syrian troops fired tear gas and bullets on Friday at thousands of protesters, while the media said bombs and gunfire killed 17 soldiers.
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