Syrian Clashes Continue as UN Monitors Begin Mission
April 16, 2012
Edward Yeranian | Cairo
The first six members of a U.N. observer team began work in Damascus Monday as activists said Syrian government troops continued to shell rebel neighborhoods in the opposition stronghold, Homs.
A second group of 24 observers is expected soon. A larger 250-member team requires more negotiations between the U.N. and the Syrian government.
Moroccan Colonel Ahmed Himmiche, who heads the U.N.-Arab League observer team, told journalists in Damascus that he thinks the observer mission is going as planned.
He said in the coming days, 30 of the observers that were agreed to in last week's U.N. Security Council resolution will be deployed.
But al Arabiya television reported that President Bashar al-Assad's media adviser, Boutheina Shaaban, said Syria “reserves the right to refuse the deployment of observers from certain countries” as well as the right to “prevent them from deploying in certain areas.”
On a visit to Brussels Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both the Syrian government and the opposition to use restraint in order to preserve the fragile cease-fire that went into effect last Thursday.
"It is very important that cessation of violence must continue and the Syrian authorities must exercise maximum restraint...Opposition forces should also fully cooperate so that the cessation of violence will continue," the U.N. chief said.
Ban asked both sides to engage in dialogue. He said the U.N. would help the Syrian people by providing humanitarian assistance.
Analyst Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group said it appears that neither the Syrian government nor the opposition is eager to see the peace mission succeed.
"Within the opposition there's a temptation to pull the plug on what some see as a distraction from more serious options, and in particular Western military intervention, and within the regime there's an understanding, I think, that any genuine political process will come at the expense of those who benefited from the ongoing crisis and in particular the security services," said Harling.
Harling said that the challenge of the monitoring mission is "to get a foot in the door and see where things go from there,” although he doubts it will end the crisis any time soon. Harling's view is that the international community “supports the mission half-heartedly....[because] they expect it to fail.”
Besides the shelling in Homs, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that security forces also shot dead two people in the central city of Hama when they opened fire on a car. Clashes persisted elsewhere in the country.
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