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Syria Violence Kills 17 After UN Approves Observers

At least 17 people were killed in violence in Syria, a day after the United Nations Security Council unanimously backed sending observers to monitor a cease-fire agreement between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebel groups fighting to oust him.

Resolution 2043, sponsored by Russia and China, nations that objected to tougher U.S.-backed measures against Syria, will allow 300 unarmed monitors to be deployed for an initial period of 90 days.

“The government in particular must desist from the use of heavy weapons and, as it has committed, withdraw such weapons and armed units from population centers,” Ahmad Fawzi, an aide to UN envoy Kofi Annan, said today in an e-mailed statement. “The work on the mission should help create the conditions conductive to launching the much-needed political process.”

The UN urges Syria to “implement visibly” the cease-fire commitment, to stop troop movements and the use of heavy weapons in population centers, and to return troops to their barracks, according to a text of the resolution. The observers will also oversee the release of political detainees, the start of political talks, and ensure access to humanitarian agencies. The resolution contains no sanctions or other penalties for Syria if it violates the cease-fire.

Rising Toll

Seventeen Syrians were killed in violence across the country today, in areas including Homs, Daraa and the suburbs of Damascus, the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, an opposition group, said in a e-mailed statement today. Several injuries were also reported from the neighborhood of al-Arbaeen in Hama after security forces opened fire to disperse a demonstration there, it said.

The observers will begin their mission only after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon makes an assessment that the situation in Syria is “right” and the deployment will begin “over the course of the next few days and weeks,” said Mark Lyall Grant, the U.K.’s envoy to the UN.

The U.S. has raised the possibility of getting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization involved in the Syrian conflict. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said NATO member Turkey may invoke the alliance’s charter provision seeking such an intervention because Syrian refugees are pouring across the border into Turkey.

Russian Opposition

Russia opposes military intervention in Syria, saying NATO misused a UN mandate, intended to protect civilians, to bring about regime change in Libya last year, resulting in the killing of leader Muammar Qaddafi.

“Any deviation from the provisions is unacceptable,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s envoy to the UN, said after yesterday’s Security Council vote on Syria. “The Libyan model should always be something that remains in the past.”

As the U.S. and Gulf states demand that Assad step down, Russia has shielded his regime, its main Middle East ally and buyer of 8 percent of the country’s arms exports.

Russia lost $4 billion in weapons contracts due to Qaddafi’s overthrow, according to Sergey Chemezov, head of state-run Russian Technologies Corp. OAO Russian Railways had to suspend building a $1.5 billion railroad linking Sirte and Benghazi.

‘Fraught With Risk’

The conflict in Syria has killed more than 9,000 people since March last year, according to UN estimates. Syria’s state forces killed 21 people in the country yesterday, Al Jazeera television reported, citing activists. An explosion was heard inside the Mazzeh military airport in Damascus, the Observatory for Human Rights in Syria said in an e-mailed statement. Gunfire followed the airport blast, and security forces sealed off the main road leading to the capital, Al Jazeera reported.

The unarmed UN mission is “fraught with risk and will fail in its task” if Assad’s government “continues to violate its commitments and obstruct the work of the mission,” U.K. envoy Grant said. Syria’s continued failure and hindrance must “be met with robust sanctions by this council,” he said.

The resolution calls on Syria to ensure the safety of the observers and also provide “appropriate air transportation” for them to travel in the country. Syria may provide the airplanes in the first stage of the mission and UN aircraft may be deployed later, Grant said. The UN and Syria have yet to agree on the use of aircraft, he said.

Refugee Warning

More than 61,000 Syrian refugees and their hosts -- Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq -- “are beginning to show signs of strain,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. Children are the worst affected and show “signs of trauma and grave distress,” the agency said.

The international community hasn’t fulfilled its month-old, $84 million humanitarian-aid pledge, delivering less than 20 percent of the funds to help respond to the Syrian crisis, UNHCR said. The agency was able to fund eight of the 34 organizations that sought aid.

The U.S., which along with European and Arab allies is backing the Syrian rebels, is considering working with Turkey to set up an “assistance hub” on the Turkish-Syrian border to coordinate aid for opposition groups, Clinton said in Paris April 19.

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