U.N. monitors visit Homs before expected Security Council vote
(CNN) — In what is viewed as a positive sign for the U.N.-backed peace plan in Syria, cease-fire monitors arrived in the besieged city of Homs on Saturday, activists and state-run media said.
The observers met with the Homs governor, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said.
International observers also held talks with activists in the city, a hotbed of dissent and the scene of protracted violence, an opposition group’s Facebook page said. The. observer team was expected to arrive in two hard-hit neighborhoods — the old city and Khalidiya, the Homs Revolution page said.
The monitors are expected to ensure compliance with a cease-fire imposed last week.They have visited several locations in Daraa province and the Damascus countryside, but the government rejected their initial request to visit Homs this week because of security concerns.
Government forces have shelled opposition strongholds in Homs for weeks, activists said.
Activists also said the government is masking its military presence in the city to show adherence to a key element of the Annan peace plan — the withdrawal of troops from population centers.
For example, the Syrian military in Homs is hiding at least 17 tanks in two state-owned buildings, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists.
The team arrived in Homs as the U.N. Security Council prepares to vote Saturday on a draft resolution that would expand the size of a U.N. monitoring mission in Syria, Western diplomats said.
The draft calls for Syrian regime’s immediate implementation of a six-point peace plan laid out by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and calls for both the government and opposition to cease violence.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for the initial three-month observer mission to be expanded to 300 unarmed military monitors in 10 locations, and asked the Security Council to authorize the expanded number.
The Security Council previously approved the deployment of an advance team of 30 monitors meant to pave the way for a larger group of observers. The United Nations and Syria reached agreement Thursday on a protocol for the advance monitoring team and other observers.
Reports of bloodshed dropped in the days immediately after last week’s cease-fire deadline, but accounts of terror and violence have ratcheted up since, with scores of people killed this week, activists said.
Snipers in the besieged city of Homs killed at least five people on Saturday, the LCC said.
SANA blamed “armed terrorist groups” for ongoing violence, saying Saturday that such terrorists detonated a bomb that killed 10 law enforcement members in Daraa province, in the south. It also said terrorists sabotaged an oil pipeline in Deir Ezzor province, in the east.
CNN cannot independently verify reports of violence and deaths, as the government has severely restricted access by international media.
The international community wants an end to the bloodshed, but the Security Council has been split between Western countries demanding strong measures against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Russia and China, the two countries on the 15-member Security Council that have quashed attempts to take tougher action against the Syrian regime.
Russia — which, along with China, has blocked action against the Syrian regime — called for the quick approval of the Security Council resolution to deploy more monitors. Russia also said a Syrian opposition delegation will visit Moscow next week.
China said it will send observers to join the U.N. monitoring mission, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported, citing a foreign ministry spokesman.
The Annan plan calls on both sides to end the violence, allow access to humanitarian groups, release detainees and begin a political dialogue.
On Saturday, SANA announced it had released 30 detainees whose “hands were not stained with the blood of the Syrians.” The state-run agency also said hundreds of detainees had been released in November, December and January.
But Ban said this week there has also been no significant release of detainees and no substantive progress on providing humanitarian assistance, despite the Syrian regime’s acceptance of the peace plan in March. He also said Syria has not lived up to its promise to withdraw troops from cities.
The Annan plan also calls for the right to demonstrate peacefully. Opposition groups said security forces in Aleppo and Daraa fired at demonstrators on Friday, the day of the week nationwide protests are held, activists said. At least 57 people were killed across Syria on Friday.
Syria has been engulfed in violence for 13 months, since the government started a fierce crackdown on peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The president’s family has ruled Syria for 42 years.
The United Nations estimates that at least 9,000 people have died since the protests began, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.