Syria, UN agree on observers
AFP DAMASCUS SYRIA and the United Nations signed a deal on Thursday on the framework for observers to monitor a shaky ceasefire, as Arab and Western ministers gathered in Paris to pile pressure on Damascus.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, was to brief the Security Council on the crisis.
The Syrian foreign ministry said “this agreement comes within the framework of Syrian efforts aimed at making the Annan plan succeed and to facilitate the UN observer mission while respecting Syria’s sovereignty.” The spokesman for UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who drafted the six-point peace plan, confirmed in Geneva that a deal on the framework to deploy monitors had been reached.
“This agreement outlines the functions of the observers as they fulfil their mandate in Syria and the tasks and responsibilities of the Syrian government in this regard,” Ahmad Fawzi said. He added that discussions were under way with members of the Syrian opposition to ensure they also comply with the ceasefire.
“The hard part lies ahead, a truly Syrian-led and -owned political dialogue to address the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Syrian people,” Fawzi said. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Paris meeting, to be attended by 14 ministers including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would send a “strong” call to the regime of President Bashar al Assad to abide by the peace plan brokered by Annan.
But Syrian ally Russia said it was staying away because the talks were only aimed at isolating the regime and would hurt the chances of direct peace talks. The UN leader has said he wants 300 unarmed observers sent on a threemonth mission, also insisting that the Assad’s regime adhere to the peace plan.
The 300 observers would be deployed over several weeks and go to about 10 different parts of Syria.
Their job will be to monitor the fragile cessation of hostilities that began on April 12 and the implementation of the Annan plan, to which Syria has committed itself. Ban said the proposed mission would “greatly contribute to observing and upholding the commitment of the parties to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms.” Diplomats said a resolution allowing the full observer mission could be ready early next week if there is agreement by the Security Council.
Monitors say that more than 11,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad’s regime erupted in March 2011, with more than 120 dying since the truce came into force. At least three people were killed in violence across Syria on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. One civilian was killed during an assault by government forces in the northeastern oil city of Deir Ezzor and two others died from gunfire in the town of Yabrud, north of Damascus, the watchdog said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the latest clashes came after 30 people were killed on Wednesday, 22 of them civilians. In the central city of Homs alone, 13 civilians died in renewed bombardment.
Ahead of the Paris meeting, French President Nicolas Sarkozy accused the regime of trying to erase Homs, Syria’s third largest city, from the map. Although he opted to stay away from the Paris meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow was “honestly fulfilling its part” to end the violence.
“I have today called on my colleagues to abandon the rhetoric of self-fulfilling prophecies that Kofi Annan’s plan will certainly fail,” Lavrov said in Brussels. In a counter-charge, Juppe said: “I regret that Russia continues to lock itself into a vision that isolates it more and more, not just from the Arab world but also from the international community.” Ministers from Germany, Turkey, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere were to attend the talks which would, Juppe said, send “a message of firmness and support for Kofi Annan.” Ban said on Wednesday that violence levels had “dropped markedly” since the ceasefire, but that the government “has yet to fully implement its initial obligations.” A seven-strong advance team of UN military observers arrived in Damascus on Sunday. By the end of the week, their numbers are to swell to the 30 already authorised by the Security Council.
Ban said the team has so far been refused permission to go to Homs, with Syrian officials citing “security concerns.” The mission went to the revolt epicentre of Daraa on Tuesday, where “it enjoyed freedom of movement” and “observed no armed violence or heavy weapons,” Ban said.
The observers went to Daraa again on Thursday, even as new clashes erupted in the area.
There were violent incidents when the UN observers went to Arbeen, in the Damascus suburbs, on Wednesday.