Syria activists call protests in truce test

Syrian opposition activists called protests against President Bashar Al Assad’s regime on Friday in a new test of its readiness to honour a peace plan UN chief Ban Ki-moon said it has so far failed to honour.

By (AFP)

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Published: Fri 20 Apr 2012, 4:33 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 1:53 PM

Government forces renewed bombardment of the flashpoint central city of Homs after security force killed seven civilians on Thursday, bringing to more than 120 the civilian death toll since a promised ceasefire took effect more than a week ago, human rights monitors said.

An advance team of UN military observers resumed work bolstered by the signing with the government on Thursday of a protocol governing their mission to monitor the six-point plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.

But Annan’s spokesman acknowledged Friday that the situation on was “not good”. “It’s a very fragile ceasefire,” Ahmad Fawzi told reporters.

UN chief Ban urged the Security Council to take “early action” to bolster the mission although he acknowledged that boosting its numbers to 300 was “not a decision without risk.”

Opposition activists called for a show of defiance against Assad’s regime for the main weekly protests on the Muslim day of prayer and rest.

“We will win and Assad will be defeated,” activists adopted as the slogan on their Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook Page that has been a major motor of the 13-month uprising which monitors say has left more than 11,000 people dead.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the UN observer mission needed to be able to guarantee Syrians the freedom to protest.

“We need observers on the ground, but properly equipped observers with helicopters that can ensure the right to protest. It’s extremely important. The day this freedom is guaranteed, the regime will fall,” he said.

But the head of the small observer advance team, Colonel Ahmed Himmiche of Morocco, said the mission would not be attending demonstrations on Friday for fear that “our presence is used for an escalation.”

“Today, we have other tasks. We are going to meet civilians and representatives of organisations,” Himmiche said as his team prepared to leave their Damascus hotel.

The UN chief said there was “deeply troubling evidence” that the government was pursuing its deadly crackdown despite agreeing to halt violence.

“The past few days, in particular, have brought reports of renewed and escalating violence, including the shelling of civilian areas, grave abuses by government forces and attacks by armed groups,” Ban said.

The protocol signed on Thursday will pave the way for the UN observers to fan out across the country.

The advance party has visited the Daraa region, south of Damascus — cradle of the uprising against Assad’s regime — but it has not so far been able to visit Homs where rebel neighbourhoods have come under repeated deadly bombardment, Ban said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the rebel Khaldiyeh district of Homs — Syria’s third largest city — was under heavy bombardment for another day.

“A shell is falling every five minutes on the neighbourhood,” the watchdog said in a statement.

Homs activist Seif al-Arab charged that government forces were attempting to retake rebel districts of the city “before the observers enter.”

The UN chief said that, “for the mission to succeed, we require the Syrian government’s full cooperation, particularly in ensuring the full freedom of movement and unfettered access and safety and security of personnel.”

Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said the Security Council can “act very quickly” to pass a resolution allowing the bolstering of the observer mission, and diplomats said one could be ready early next week.

However, Western ambassadors were cautious.

German ambassador Peter Wittig said the Security Council must make sure the “conditions are right” before sending the enlarged force.

Moscow insisted on Friday that the Syria ceasefire was generally holding despite violations and should be viewed as an achievement that was saving the country from a broader civil war.

“Despite the existing violations and provocations, the ceasefire is holding overall. This is a great achievement whose loss could lead to a dangerous retreat to a new wave of violence,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

French presidential frontrunner, Socialist Francois Hollande, said he would support Paris joining a UN-sanctioned military intervention in Syria.

“If done within a UN framework, we would participate in such an intervention,” Hollande told Europe 1 radio.

But the rebel Free Syrian Army called for outside military intervention against the Damascus regime even without Security Council approval.

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