Syrian government forces pounded towns in the north and the south, as United Nations observers began their mission to monitor a cease-fire that aims to end 13 months of conflict.
Artillery shells and mortar rounds slammed into the town of Busr al-Hareer in Daraa province, killing three people and injuring 16 others, Al Jazeera television said, citing activists. At least 30 homes caught fire, it reported. Syrian security forces killed 39 people today, mainly in the northern province of Idlib, Al Arabiya reported, citing activists. About 55 people were killed yesterday, the Local Coordination Committees opposition group said in an e-mailed statement.
The violence persisted as an advance team of six UN observers, led by Moroccan Colonel Ahmed Himmiche, began preparations for monitoring the cease-fire. A further 25 observers are due to follow in the next few days, according to Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for UN special envoy Kofi Annan.
The observers are due to monitor the six-point cease-fire intended to end a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people since March last year and increasingly divided the country along sectarian lines. The plan, drafted by Annan and accepted by President Bashar al-Assad and the main opposition groups, required a cessation of violence from April 12. Both sides have accused the other of violating it.
The international community must increase sanctions on the Syrian government to force it to accept the cease-fire that it has flouted, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
“We must maintain pressure on the Syrian regime: that means strengthening sanctions,” he said at the start of a 58- country “Friends of Syria” meeting in Paris today.
The 22-member Arab League was due today to hold a meeting attended by Annan in the Qatari capital, Doha, to discuss the situation in Syria, Al Arabiya reported.
Annan’s peace plan has won the backing of Russia and China, two countries that had vetoed earlier efforts by the U.S. and its European and Arab allies to pass a Security Council resolution calling for Assad to cede power.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today the cease-fire remains “fragile,” with government troops reacting to “provocations” from the opposition, which has been receiving arms shipments.
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