Last updated: 14 April, 2012

Syria forces shell Homs as UN votes on observers

The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Saturday to send observers to monitor conflict-wracked Syria’s shaky truce, as reports there said 12 people were killed in violence.

Russia, which raised earlier reservations over the Western-drafted text, and China backed the vote, ensuring the first Security Council resolution on Syria since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad broke out 13 months ago.

UN Resolution 2042 approved sending the first 30 unarmed military monitors to the conflict-wracked state as soon as possible and the first five or six of them are expected to arrive on Sunday, officials said.

The resolution called for both the Syrian government and opposition forces to bring a halt to “armed violence in all its forms.”

It also urged the government to “implement visibly” all commitments under UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, including the withdrawal of all troops and heavy guns from Syrian cities.

Assad and the opposition must also “guarantee the safety of the advance team without prejudice to its freedom of movement and access,” and the “primary responsibility” for observers’ safety will rest with the Syrian government.

A new resolution with a full mandate will be required to ensure a full monitoring mission of more than 200 observers.

The successful vote was welcomed by the Syrian opposition and the European Union

“We are ready to act to make the Annan plan a success,” the Syrian National Council said in a statement signed by its leader Burhan Ghalioun.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the resolution “presents an unequivocal call from the international community to the Syrian regime to stop violence against its population and to address urgent humanitarian needs.”

“I call on the Syrian government to take this opportunity to change course, and fully cooperate with the initial observation team,” she added.

But even as Saturday’s vote took place, forces loyal to Assad killed four civilians when they opened fire on a funeral procession for a demonstrator in Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Five more civilians, two soldiers and a policeman who had deserted were killed elsewhere in the country.

State television aired footage of youths burning tyres and hurling stones in the Aleppo district of Izaa, and accused gunmen of fanning out in the area and opening fire at random.

The death toll, however, was far lower than the dozens of people killed on a daily basis before the ceasefire entered into force at dawn on Thursday.

The latest deaths came after six civilians were killed on Friday as tens of thousands of people protested across Syria, heeding calls by the opposition to test the UN-backed truce.

On Saturday, demonstrations were staged in several areas, according to videos posted on the Internet by activists.

“Activate the revolution. It is ours. Syria is free,” chanted hundreds of people in the village of Kfar Roma, in the northern province of Idlib.

In Daraa province, the cradle of dissent against Assad’s regime, hundreds turned out in the village of Inkhel.

“We shall not give up until the regime falls,” they chanted.

The United States had called for a vote at the UN Security Council after two days of wrangling with Russia over security guarantees for the first 30 unarmed military monitors peace envoy Annan wanted in Syria.

Russia had opposed a council demand that Assad’s regime carry out its promise to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities, which is part of the Annan peace deal.

Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, said earlier negotiations had been “rather difficult,” but had insisted Moscow wanted a vote that allows the Syrian ceasefire to be “reinforced.”

Russia and China had vetoed two previous Security Council resolutions on Syria.

A new version of the resolution drafted by the United States with Britain and France was sent to other council members late on Friday for national governments to decide which way to vote.

Churkin said that “substantive changes” had been made to make it “more balanced.”

Despite their past vetoes, Russia and China strongly supported Annan’s six-point peace plan, and said they are putting increased pressure on Damascus.

Samir Nashar, a member of the Syrian National Council hailed the effort to dispatch observers to Syria but cast doubt over the effect of sending so few.

“This is going to help reduce the number of killings, no doubt… but what could (just) 30 observers do in Syria?” he told AFP.

The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad’s regime erupted in March last year, while monitors put the figure at over 10,000.