Syrian forces shell Homs as UN observers due to arrive

Syrian government forces shelled the city of Homs yesterday, resident opposition activists and a rights activist said, as a six-person advance party of UN observers was due to arrive in Syria to monitor a ceasefire meant to start four days ago.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the 30 unarmed observers who have been sanctioned to enter Syria by a unanimous vote at the Security Council on Saturday was insufficient and had to be “beefed up”.

“This number of people cannot possibly effectively monitor what is happening in the whole country,” he said in an interview with Sky News, adding that 30 monitors could, however, quickly visit areas where they are reports of ceasefire breaches.

“The plan will be for a much larger (team), more in the hundreds, of monitors to follow them provided the (ceasefire) plan is being implemented by all concerned,” he said.

But four days after a ceasefire was meant to come into effect, violence persists.

“Early this morning we saw a helicopter and a spotter plane fly overhead. Ten minutes later, there was heavy shelling,” said Walid al-Fares, an activist living in the battered Homs district of Khalidiya.

Activist video footage, reportedly from Khalidiya, shows an explosion shortly after the sound of a missile flying through the air. Another whiz follows, and the cameraman, standing in a nearby building, pans across to show a ball of flames and smoke rising into the air.

Rami Abdelrahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said shells were being fired at a rate of one a minute. He said there had also been overnight clashes in rural Aleppo.

“People said they heard explosions and shooting after rebels attacked a police station and then clashed with police,” he said.

On Saturday, 14 people were killed in the violence, Abdelrahman said and the state news agency SANA said “armed terrorists” killed five people in ambushes around the country.

The UN vote on Saturday was the first Security Council resolution on Syria the 15-nation council has managed to approve unanimously since the uprising erupted in March 2011.

Russia and China have previously blocked Western attempts to pass Security Council resolutions on Syria.

A spokesman for UN-Arab League envoy and ceasefire mediator Kofi Annan said on Saturday an advance team of six monitors would arrive in Syria within 24 hours and deploy within 36 hours, with more to follow within days.

“I will make sure that this advance observer mission will be dispatched as soon as possible and try to make concrete proposals by the 18th of April for an official observer mission,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told United Nations radio separately in Geneva.

Abu Rabea, an activist in Homs, dismissed the ceasefire and the monitoring mission.

“Nothing has changed in Homs, government loyalists on roofs are using heavy machine guns to shoot us and we are being shelled.

“The only thing that has changed is that Kofi Annan’s plan is said to be accepted by the regime and the world believes them.”

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