Syrian security forces attacked urban areas with sniper fire and heavy machine guns yesterday, as United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan said the government has “severely” tested the organization’s patience.
At least 800 people have been killed since the cease-fire started on April 12, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Damascus-based Arab Organization for Human Rights, said today in a telephone interview. It was impossible to get updates today because phone lines in the capital’s suburbs are down, he said. Al Jazeera television reported 10 deaths today.
Annan called for more unarmed UN observers to act as “the eyes and ears on the ground,” monitoring the crumbling cease- fire between Syrian government forces and the opposition. In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. has little confidence in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s commitment to end more than a year of violence.
Assad’s continued crackdown threatens to thwart efforts to stop the yearlong violence that the UN estimates has claimed more than 9,000 lives. The U.S. and other nations backing the opposition movement have found they have few options to compel the Assad government to back down.
“The Assad regime has broken its commitments time and again, so even as we work to help deploy the monitors, we are preparing additional steps in case the violence continues or the monitors are prevented from doing their work,” Clinton said yesterday at the State Department. She didn’t specify what actions are being considered.
There is an advance contingent of 12 UN monitors in Syria, and the plan is to increase their number to 100 by the end of next month. The council has authorized a total of 300 observers.
Russian Ambassador to UN Vitaly Churkin said yesterday that the deployment was happening too slowly and that the Security Council should “look for some unorthodox ways to maybe expedite the process.”
Annan, special envoy for both the UN and the Arab League, said more monitors would address the fact that “we continue to be hampered by the lack of verified information in assessing the situation.” More monitors would “provide the incontrovertible basis the international community needs to act,” Annan said. “Our patience has been tested severely -- close to its limits.”
Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for Annan, told UN TV yesterday that satellite imagery and credible reports indicate the Syrians have not withdrawn heavy weapons from population centers, despite their claims to have done so. That was one condition in Annan’s six-point plan, which Syria has agreed to. Fawzi also cited reports of intimidation and possible killings after monitors left conflict zones.
Speaking to the UN Security Council by video-link from Lund, Sweden, Annan said that he was “particularly alarmed by reports that government troops entered Hama yesterday after observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people.”
“If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible,” Annan said, adding that the situation is “bleak.”
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told Annan on April 21 that the dispersal of troop concentrations and heavy weapons both in and around population centers was complete and military operations had ceased, the special envoy told the Security Council. April 21 was also the day the UN unanimously backed sending observers to monitor the cease-fire.
“This hasn’t been a cease-fire from the beginning,” Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies and author of a report on U.S.-Syrian relations, said in response to e-mailed questions. “At first it helped lessen conflict, but given the regime’s use of live fire and shelling, violence has flared again. Perhaps the monitors, when they are fully in place, can help peaceful protesters return to the streets.”
The 15-member council voted unanimously to allow 300 unarmed monitors for an initial period of 90 days in a resolution sponsored by Russia and China, two nations that oppose tougher measures against Syria, such as sanctions. Russia has argued against military intervention in Syria, saying the North Atlantic Treaty Organization misused a UN mandate, intended to protect civilians, to bring about regime change in Libya last year.
The U.S. and European Union governments stiffened sanctions against Syria on April 23. The EU sought to crimp the lifestyle of Assad and his family by banning the export of luxury goods to Syria. EU foreign ministers also put more products on a list of banned technologies that could be used by the government to suppress dissent. In the U.S., President Barack Obama announced new sanctions on companies that sell surveillance technology to Syria.
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