Shots fired as U.N. observers visit Syria, activists say
(CNN): Security forces fired at demonstrators in a Syrian city Wednesday while United Nations observers were visiting, activists said.
The incident took place near Damascus in the city of Arbeen where, activists said, demonstrators congregated near the Grand Mosque in Arbeen’s market to welcome the observers, who are in the country monitoring the country’s shaky cease-fire.
One video shows demonstrators surrounding U.N. vehicles before gunfire sends all of them running. A second video shows people running while the narrator says, “they are firing on demonstrators while the observers are visiting.”
Another video shows protesters surrounding a U.N. vehicle with the crowd chanting that “the people want the arming of the Free Syrian Army.” It shows a pink handwritten sign on the back of one of the U.N. vehicles that says, “the killer is still killing, the observers are still observing, and the people still rebelling.”
“We gathered in the courtyard of the municipal building in Arbeen and demonstrators surrounded the U.N. cars and began shouting anti-regime slogans,” one protester told the opposition group Avaaz. “The security forces threw tear gas at us, and some of the people took shelter behind the United Nations vehicles, but the cars fled the area, and the security forces began shooting at the demonstrators.”
The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition activist network, also reported gunfire while U.N. monitors were visiting the town.
The protester who spoke to Avaaz reported injured people, but the group couldn’t independently verify the information.
The LCC posted video online of what it said was a cameraman wounded by regime forces in Arbeen.
As well as Arbeen, the observers on Wednesday visited the nearby town of Zamalka, also near Damascus.
The reports come nearly a week after the start of a cease-fire forged by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
A small team of U.N. observers arrived this week after the U.N. Security Council authorized the deployment of an advance team of 30 observers.
Despite a relative drop in reported deaths immediately after the cease-fire deadline Thursday, violence has raged in Syria over the past few days, with both the government and opposition forces reporting fatal attacks.
Six members of law enforcement were killed and 11 wounded when an explosive device went off in the Idlib province town of al-Mastoumeh, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said. An “armed terrorist group targeting the law enforcement personnel” set off the blast in the northern province, SANA reported.
A sniper shot and killed a police officer in the southern city of Daraa, the news outlet reported. It also said terrorists fired at law enforcement personnel in the Damascus countryside, killing one and wounding another.
The LCC said security forces and their local militia allies killed at least 32 people. At least 20 of them died in Homs, where government forces shelled homes, accompanied by intense gunfire and military aircraft flying over the city. Other deaths occurred in Idlib, Daraa, Hama, Aleppo and the Damascus countryside, the group said.
Syria has been engulfed in violence for 13 months as a national uprising spread while the government cracked down on peaceful protests. The United Nations estimates that at least 9,000 people have died since the protests began, while others put the death toll at more than 11,000.
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has blamed terrorists for the violence, but activist groups have cited daily killings by government forces.
World powers have condemned the violence but haven’t been able to stop it. The U.N. Security Council and the Arab League have backed a six-point peace plan that Annan brokered.
Syria has also backed Annan’s mission and agreed to last week’s cease-fire. The country said Wednesday it would offer aircraft to the observers and called for the deployment of many more monitors in addition to the small team assembled there.
They will be “liaising with the Syrian government, security forces and the opposition members to establish the monitoring process across the country,” said Kieran Dwyer, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping missions.
Damascus welcomes the deployment of more observers to ensure that the cease-fire holds, according to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.
“The presence of 250 international observers is logical and possible,” Moallem said in Beijing. “Syria has a real interest in the international observers’ mission, because our purpose is the stability of the Syrian people.”
Moallem welcomed the participation of “neutral countries” like China, Russia, South Africa, India and Brazil in the observers’ team, SANA reported, quoting Syria’s ambassador to China, Imad Mustafa.
Such nations “can play an objective and logical role” as opposed to what he said were the biased “goals or agendas affiliated to the U.S. and its policies,” SANA said, citing Mustafa. Those countries, particularly Russia and China, have opposed strong action against the regime.
The foreign minister was on a visit at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, who urged Syria to comply with the cease-fire and implement Annan’s plan.
Along with calling for a cease-fire by the government and the opposition, the plan urges authorities to stop troop movement toward populated centers and end the use of heavy weapons. It favors a Syrian-led political process to end the crisis.
It also calls for the government to ensure “timely provision of humanitarian assistance” and to intensify “the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons,” and for freedom of movement for journalists and the right to demonstrate.
Anti-government resistance groups, including the Free Syrian Army, have emerged across Syria during the uprising. There has been talk in the Arab world and the United States of providing arms to these fighters, and there are fears of civil war if international peace initiatives fail.
While Qatar said it is not arming the opposition, it declared that “self-defense is legitimate” and did not rule it out.
“If the situation is not resolved soon, we have to help the Syrian people defend themselves,” Qatar Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani said Tuesday in Doha. “But we do hope that Kofi Annan will succeed in his cease-fire efforts, implement his six-point proposal and initiate political talks to transfer power peacefully.”
As the violence continued, wives of U.N. ambassadors from Britain and Germany urged Syria’s first lady to “stop your husband” in his year-long bid to quash the uprising.
The roughly four-minute video posted on YouTube juxtaposes pictures of an elegant Asma al-Assad against images of other Syrian women and dead and wounded children.
“Speak out for the end of violence. That is what we want. Stop the bloodshed. Stop it now. We know this is a risk for you, but take this risk,” said Huberta von Voss-Wittig, the wife of Germany’s U.N. ambassador.