#Arbeen #Damascus #Syria: destruction and fires caused by shelling from fighter jets of Syrian army forces.
Syrian activists say government forces have killed at least 28 people in the city of Hama, one day after residents of the opposition hub welcomed several United Nations soldiers sent to observe a shaky cease-fire in the country’s year-long conflict.
The activists say Syrian security forces attacked Hama on Monday morning, shelling its Arbeen district, destroying homes and firing machine guns. Casualties from the assault could not be independently confirmed. A small advance team of U.N. observers had visited Hama on Sunday and was greeted by protesters chanting slogans against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Kofi Annan’s Six-Point Peace Plan
- A Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.
- A U.N.-supervised end to armed violence by all parties in Syria.
- Timely humanitarian assistance in all areas affected by fighting.
- Increasing the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained people.
- Ensuring freedom of movement for journalists.
- Respecting freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully.
A U.N. observer spokesman says three more members joined the team Monday, raising its number to 11. A video posted online by activists showed some U.N. monitors visiting the rebellious Damascus suburb of Douma, surrounded by thousands of people shouting anti-Assad slogans.
Several U.N. observers also made a brief visit to the mountainous town of Zabadani near Damascus. Activists said they were disappointed that the monitors refused to inspect locations where residents said the government was hiding heavy weapons. The Syrian government pledged to withdraw such weapons from population centers this month as part of a U.N.-backed plan to peacefully resolve its conflict with anti-Assad rebels.
U.N. political affairs chief Lynn Pascoe said Monday the Assad government’s compliance with the peace plan is “clearly insufficient.” He made the comment in remarks to the U.N. Security Council. Syria has said it is committed to the plan but reserves the right to respond to attacks by armed terrorists whom it says are driving the revolt.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told VOA that the observer team in Syria will grow to 30 personnel by the end of April. The Security Council has authorized a mission of up to 300 unarmed monitors, but exiled Syrian opposition leaders say that number is too small to cover Syria’s vast territory.
In another development, Western powers announced additional sanctions on the Assad government to pressure it into stopping its deadly crackdown on dissent.
U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order penalizing companies and individuals that provide technology that helps Syria and its regional ally Iran to oppress their people. In a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, Mr. Obama promised not to give up on the Syrian people, whom he said still brave the street and demand to be heard despite all the “tanks … torture and brutality unleashed against them.”
The European Union also agreed to ban exports to Syria of luxury goods favored by Mr. Assad and his wife and block the sale of items that his government could use for internal repression as well as commercial purposes. EU experts will draw up a list of banned goods at a later date.
The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 13-month crackdown on the uprising, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.
Syrian regime forces unleashed an artillery barrage on a neighborhood of the city of Hama and executed residents who spoke with United Nations peace monitors, according to several residents, one day after protesters in the city took to the streets to welcome the observers.
Monday’s violence left 28 to 38 people dead in the city, according to reports by opposition networks.
“The regime decided to punish the people of Hama because they were brave enough to come out to meet the monitors,” said Hama resident and opposition activist Mousab al-Hamadee. “The regime wanted to send a message to other cities.”
The violence—among the worst in the city in several months, and perhaps the bloodiest day nationwide since a nominal cease-fire was to have taken effect on April 12—casts fresh doubt on the future of a monitoring mission proposed by the U.N., and on the ability of the observers to protect those with whom it comes in contact.
Eleven U.N. peace observers are now on the ground in Syria, said U.N. spokesman Eduardo del Buey, and some 20 more are due within days, tasked with monitoring the cease-fire deal brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. A full contingent of 300 observers has been authorized by the U.N. Security Council.
The regime has continued shelling restive cities since shortly after the cease-fire went into effect, however, and has refused to pull its forces out of cities as pledged. The Syrian government’s adherence to the cease-fire is “clearly insufficient,” B. Lynn Pascoe, the U.N.’s top political officer, told the U.N. Security Council on Monday. “Human-rights violations are still perpetrated with impunity.”
But the U.N. appears intent on pressing ahead with the monitors’ deployment, as U.N.officials hope a more robust peace-monitoring team can help stem violence they say has now left 10,000 dead.
“The Syrian regime should make no mistake,” said Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told the Security Council. “There will be consequences should the Syrian regime continue to ignore this council’s decisions.”
But it isn’t clear what those consequences might be. Western government sought to include an explicit threat of sanctions in the council’s resolution on Saturday that authorized the 300 additional monitors. But in a compromise with Moscow, which opposes U.N. sanctions on Damascus, the language was toned down to say only that the council would consider “appropriate further measures” if Syria’s government doesn’t pull back its forces from populated areas in 15 days.
On Monday, the U.S. passed new sanctions that target telecommunications companies and government bodies in Syria as well as Iran that disrupt networks, monitor citizens or otherwise use technology to enable human-rights abuses.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday the European Union was running out of credible sanctions against Syria. The latest ban on luxury-goods exports, passed Monday, represented the 14th round of EU sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, including an oil embargo, an asset freeze and a travel ban on senior regime officials.
In Hama, Syria’s fourth-largest city and a hub of mass protests last summer, residents described artillery shelling, house raids and executions.
On Sunday, Mr. al-Hamadee and several other residents said, the U.N. observer team toured city neighborhoods speaking with residents. In many areas, they said, activists marched in the streets to greet the monitors, who left at around 3 p.m.
After the team left, security forces stormed into certain neighborhoods and began rounding up residents who had spoken to the observers, Mr. al-Hamadee said.
On Monday morning, Hama’s Arbaeen neighborhood, one of the districts the observers visited, suffered “very heavy, very indiscriminate” shelling for about four hours until 2 p.m., an activist in that neighborhood said in a conversation by Skype. Afterward, this person said, home raids and street executions began, with security forces and what residents characterized as plainclothes thugs entering the neighborhood and dragging people from their homes.
Nine young men were executed in the streets because they were alleged to have given information to the observers, Mr. al-Hamadee said. Another activist in the city said 12 people were executed. Those shot inside their homes or on the streets were civilians, rather than armed fighters with the Free Syrian Army, the activist in Arbaeen said.
Video footage posted on YouTube by Hama activist groups on Monday shows a room full of bodies of the alleged execution victims wrapped in white cloth shrouds with cardboard placards marking their names. Another video shows the bombardment of what is identified as Arbaeen, with the person shooting the footage saying: “This is the gift of the international observers and Kofi Annan to the Syrian people,” as an explosion rocks the camera and smoke rises in the air.
The Security Council resolution on the monitors calls on the Syrian government to allow the observers to “freely and privately communicate with individuals throughout Syria without retaliation against any person” as a result of the interaction, the resolution says.
With outside media all but barred from Syria, the U.N. monitors are meant in part to provide independent confirmation of events there. At the U.N., Western diplomats said their governments were unable to confirm the events in Hama that were alleged to have followed the monitors’ departure.
The state-run SANA news agency, meanwhile, said rebel gunmen assassinated a doctor and an army officer Monday in the southern province of Daraa, and shot dead two other army officers in Hama.
Edith M. Lederer
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, Apr. 19, 2012 1:08AM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Apr. 19, 2012 8:52AM EDT
International envoy Kofi Annan says Syria and the United Nations have reached an agreement on the rules governing the UN’s advance team of truce monitors.
Mr. Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi says the agreement covers how the team of up to 30 observers will “monitor and support a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties” and implement Mr. Annan’s six-point peace plan.
Mr. Fawzi said in a statement the agreement negotiated Thursday outlines the observers’ functions and the “tasks and responsibilities” of the Syrian government.
He says Mr. Annan also is having “similar discussions” with opposition figures to reach agreement on “the tasks and responsibilities of armed opposition groups.”
A small UN advance team is in Syria trying to salvage a week-old ceasefire.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said late Wednesday he isn’t underestimating the gravity of the situation in Syria but believes there is an opportunity for progress and recommended the Security Council approve a 300-strong UN observer mission.
Mr. Ban said in a letter to the council obtained by The Associated Press that he will consider developments on the ground, including consolidation of the ceasefire, before deciding on when to deploy the expanded mission, which is larger than the 250 observers initially envisioned.
The UN chief said the level of violence dropped markedly on April 12, the day a ceasefire called for by international envoy Kofi Annan went into effect, but that violent incidents and reported casualties have escalated again in recent days and “the cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete.”
At the same time, Mr. Ban said, the Syrian government and opposition have continued to express their commitment to a ceasefire and have agreed to co-operate with a UN observer mission.
“I remain deeply concerned about the gravity of the situation in the country,” he said. “However, without underestimating the serious challenges ahead, an opportunity for progress may now exist, on which we need to build.”
Mr. Ban said Syria has not fully implemented its initial requirement under Mr. Annan’s six-point plan to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities and return them to barracks.
He said members of the small advance team on the ground in Syria enjoyed freedom of movement on a visit to the southern city of Daraa on Tuesday where they saw buses and trucks with soldiers dispersed throughout the city.
On Wednesday, he said, the advance team visited Jobar, Zamalka and Arbeen in suburban Damascus and reported the presence of military at checkpoints and around some public squares and buildings in all three locations. In Arbeen, he said, one armoured personnel carrier was hidden, covered by a plastic sheet.
“The situation in Arbeen became tense when a crowd that was part of an opposition demonstration forced United Nations vehicles to a checkpoint,” Mr. Ban said. “Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles. Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations military observers.”
The secretary-general said no injuries were observed by the advance team but one U.N. vehicle “was damaged slightly during the incident.”
Mr. Ban said the team’s initial request to visit Homs – the city at the centre of the 13-month conflict – “was not granted, with officials claiming security concerns.”
The UN chief said action on other parts of Mr. Annan’s six-point plan “remains partial, and, while difficult to assess, it does not amount yet to the clear signal expected from Syrian authorities.”
Regarding the right to protest freely, he said, reports from local opposition groups suggest there was “a more restrained response” to demonstrations on April 13 – the day after the ceasefire took effect – “but there were nevertheless attempts to intimidate protesters, including reports of incidents of rifle fire by government troops.”
On detainees, Mr. Ban said “the status and circumstances of thousands of detainees across the country remains unclear and there continue to be concerning reports of significant abuses.” He added that “there has been no significant release of detainees.”
While the Syrian government said entry visas were granted to 53 Arab and foreign journalists, Mr. Ban said the UN has no further information and he again demanded that all journalists “have full freedom of movement throughout the country.”
Mr. Annan’s plan calls for unrestricted humanitarian access but Mr. Ban said “no substantive progress has been achieved over the last weeks of negotiations” on access to the one million people in need of aid.
“Developments since April 12 underline the importance of sending a clear message to the authorities that a cessation of armed violence must be respected in full, and that action is needed on all aspects of the six-point plan,” Mr. Ban said.
French preisdent Nicolas Sarkozy also weighed in on the crisis in Syria.
Mr. Sarkozy called for humanitarian corridors in Syria to help those opposing Mr. al-Assad.
Mr. Sarkozy also told Europe 1 radio Friday that Mr. al-Assad is a liar who wants to destroy the beleaguered city of Homs just like Libya’s Col. Gadhafi wanted to raze Benghazi.
Mr. Sarkozy spoke hours ahead of a meeting in Paris of the Friends of Syria group of nations.
He said that “Bashar Assad lies shamelessly. He wants to wipe Homs off the map just like (former Libyan leader Moammar) Gadhafi wanted to raze Benghazi from the map” despite a ceasefire.
Mr. Sarkozy predicted that the stance of Russia and China, which have opposed UN sanctions against Mr. al-Assad, will evolve because they “don’t like to be isolated.”
Seriously! Assad goons shot at peaceful protesters in Arbeenwhile they were walking along with UN monitors’ cars! youtube.com/watch?v=FPDEC9…— Nuff Silence (@NuffSilence) April 18, 2012