Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled residential districts in the central city of Homs before United Nations military observers arrive in the country to monitor a cease-fire.
Five people died in Homs today, including three killed during shelling, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement. Government forces and rebels clashed in the Aleppo area, where a police station was attacked with bombs, the U.K. based rights group said. Syrian forces killed 13 people today, Al Jazeera reported.
The UN’s 15-member Security Council voted unanimously yesterday to dispatch a first wave of monitors and urged Syria to “implement visibly its commitments” to a six-point cease-fire plan from UN special envoy Kofi Annan. A bigger mission will follow, if conditions allow it.
The truce was already being tested as the UN’s most powerful body passed its first binding measures to stem a 13-month-old conflict that has killed more than 9,000 according to UN estimates. Inspired by revolts that toppled leaders in Egypt and Libya, the Syrian uprising is evolving into a civil war with sectarian undertones.
Syrian authorities will prevent continued “criminal attacks,” state television reported, citing an unidentified military official. Attacks against civilians have escalated since the UN approved the deployment of observers, it said. Syria’s government told the UN it would abide by the cease-fire, though it reserved the right to respond to any attacks.
Before the April 12 cease-fire, the death toll in Syria often exceeded 100 a day, according to the UN. A prolonged lull would allow deployment of unarmed monitors in the country. Failure of the cease-fire may prompt calls for outside military intervention.
“We are under no illusions,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, told the council yesterday after passage of the resolution. “Two days of diminished violence, after a year of murderous rampage, hardly proves that the regime is serious about honoring its commitments.”
Assad, 46, is fighting for the survival of his Alawite family’s four-decade hold on power. While more than 70 percent of Syria’s population is Sunni, Assad and the ruling elite are in a minority, belonging to an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam which stands to lose privileges should he fall.
Homs, a flashpoint of the uprising seeking to topple Assad’s rule, has been the target of a military campaign by the regime, which says it’s fighting terrorists in the city.
Russia has a stake in the survival of a Soviet-era ally, selling the Assad regime weapons during the uprising. Still, the government in Moscow has leaned on the Syrian government to accept the cease-fire terms and let monitors into the country.
“For many months now the situation in Syria has been the subject of the fixed attention and alarm of the international community, and it’s understandable,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council after the vote. “There have been too many casualties” and there are “too many destructive consequences if the crisis continues to ratchet up.”