UN Monitors Set to Begin as Ceasefire Unravels

An advance team of UN peacekeepers arrived to begin their work in Syria as the ceasefire they are to monitor is cast into further doubt

Gabe Kahn,

Advance Peacekeeping Team (Syria)
Advance Peacekeeping Team (Syria)

UN observers on Monday were set to begin their mission overseeing a tenuous ceasefire in Syria as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad again shelled the city of Homs.

UN Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon expressed serious concern at the Syrian government’s shelling of Homs and said “the whole world is watching with skeptical eyes” whether the cease-fire can be sustained.

“It is important -- absolutely important that the Syrian government should take all the measures to keep this cessation of violence,” he told reporters in Brussels after meeting Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo on Sunday, The Associated Press reported. “I urge again in the strongest possible terms that this cessation of violence must be kept.”

Ban said he had in-depth discussions Saturday with Annan in Geneva and expressed hope that once the full monitoring team is on the ground “there will be calm and stability and peace without any violence.”

As many as eight people have been killed on Monday by Syrian troops according to opposition Local Coordination Committees.

The ceasefire is the first stage of a six-point peace plan brokered by UN special envoy Kofi Annan, but it has been increasingly undermined as Assad's government vowed to respond to a wave of “terrorist attacks” in Syria.

On Sunday, the Syrian state news agency SANA said a “terrorist group” ambushed armed forces in Idlib province, killing a soldier and wounding three others.

“Since the announcement of an end to military operations, terrorist attacks have increased by dozens, causing a large loss of life,” SANA added.

“(Security forces), based on their duty to protect civilians and the country, will stop terrorist groups from continuing their criminals acts and the killing of civilians,” SANA said.

Meanwhile, Norwegian major general Robert Mood departed Syria and is not expected to return. Mood was slated to head the UN peace monitors in Damascus.

Annan’s spokesman, Ahmed Fawzy, confirmed Mood has returned to Norway and that the UN chief Ban Ki-moon must now choose a new leader for the observer team.

According to Reuters, an advance team of five unarmed monitors arrived in the capital Damascus on Sunday evening.

A Syrian official escorting the team at a Damascus hotel told Reuters that more observers were expected to arrive on Monday, but offered no details.

The UN Security Council authorized the deployment of up to 30 unarmed observers on Saturday in the first resolution on Syria the 15-nation council managed to approve unanimously since the uprising erupted in March 2011.

However, UN officials have asked for member states to begin preparing to lend as many as 300 soldiers to the observer force - indicating it could be expanded.

As the monitors prepared to embark on their mission, violence persisted on the ground.

One activist in the focal protest city of Homs said government bombardment on Sunday came at the rate of “one shell per minute.”

Casting further doubt on whether the ceasefire would hold, Syria said it would stop what it called “terrorist groups” from committing criminal acts, state television reported.

Syria blames the violence on what it says are terrorists seeking to topple Assad. It has denied journalists access to the country, making it impossible to independently verify reports.

The UN estimates Assad’s forces have killed more than 9,100 people in the uprising, which has been rife with reports of war crimes perpetrated by Assad's forces.

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