Maj. Gen. Robert Mood
Maj. Gen. Robert MoodReuters

An advanced peacekeeping team arrived in Damascus on Thursday to negotiate the deployment of an unarmed UN observer force in Syria.

A spokesman for UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said the UN is already asking member states to dedicate 200-250 soldiers to the observer force, which will be tasked with monitoring a UN-backed ceasefire agreement.

Annan has asked Norwegian major-general, Robert Mood, to "begin discussing with the Syrian authorities the modalities of the eventual deployment of this U.N. supervision and monitoring mission," spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

The force is expected to be deployed before the April 12 deadline for completing implementation of the ceasefire agreement. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has pledged to begin pulling his troops out of population centers by April 10.

Mood's contingent would first have to be authorized by the 15-nation Security Council. Russia, which has previously exercised its veto to block resolutions critical of Assad's regime, has said it will likely back the observer force.

But ahead of the April 10 deadline Assad seems intent to ratchet up his bloody crackdown, which has claimed at least 9,100 lives in the past year.

A total of 92 people were killed yesterday in Syria. The revolutionary coordination committees announced the figure, saying that the heaviest casualties were in the cities of Homs, Idlib and Rif Dimashq.

The total includes six families, including nine children and six women. Meanwhile there were violent clashes at dawn today between the security forces of Assad and Free Syrian Army insurgents in Douma, near Damascus, where the regime sent big reinforcements earlier this week.

Local coordination committees in the Damascus area said that explosions and bursts of machine gun fire are shaking the suburb, which lies just 9 miles away from key government buildings, from which rise several columns of smoke are rising.

There were also reports from across Syria that Assad's forces were firebombing houses in towns known for rebel sympathies.