Syria’s ceasefire came under significant threat Sunday as the government of
President Bashar Assad vowed a crackdown on a wave of “terrorist attacks” and
its forces shelled Homs on the day the first UN peace monitors were due to enter
An initial team of UN ceasefire monitors was due to arrive
late Sunday evening and will be deployed on Monday in an effort to keep the
peace plan on track, the spokesman for international mediator Kofi Annan
They will be joined by two dozen more observers in the coming days
in line with a UN Security Council resolution adopted on Saturday authorizing
the deployment of up to 30, the spokesman said.
But four days after the
cease-fire brokered by Annan was meant to come into effect, regime-sponsored
violence persisted, particularly in the battered city of Homs.
remain skeptical that monitors will alter the dynamics of the Syria
In December, the Arab League dispatched more than 60 monitors to
the country, only to withdraw them a month later due to what it described as
“If they’re even let into blighted areas, they’ll be
told certain parts are inaccessible due to ‘security concerns,’” Michael Weiss of the London-based Henry Jackson Society told The Jerusalem Post.
“Also, 30 people to cover a country is farcical – even if this is just an
“The cease-fire hasn’t held,” he said. “The regime
has renewed its use of attack helicopters and artillery in Homs. Peaceful
protests in Aleppo and elsewhere have been violently dispersed. So any
attempt to try and see it implemented further is both hypocritical and
Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute said he
believes Annan was the wrong choice for international envoy to Syria.
dictator worth his salt is afraid of Kofi Annan and his UN
After all, as head of peace-keeping, Annan had presided over
the Rwanda genocide and then as secretary-general, Annan had called Saddam
Hussein ‘a man I can do business with.’” All the cease-fire will do is remove
some of the heat off Assad, Rubin says, “as his forces regroup and unload the
generous arms packages the Russians and Iranians provide, and then the process
will start all over again.”
On Sunday, the Syrian government said it
could not be responsible for the safety of the monitors unless it is involved in
“all steps on the ground,” government spokeswoman and presidential adviser
Bouthaina Shaaban said.
She also said the number of monitors could rise
to 250, but that Syria reserved the right to agree on the nationality of those
On the day the first observers were due in Syria,
government forces bombed the city of Homs, one of the hotbeds of opposition to
Assad, at a rate of “one shell per minute,” activists said. They also reported
attacks elsewhere in the country.
Syria said it would stop what it called
“terrorist groups” from continuing criminal acts, state TV quoted a security
source as saying, casting further doubt on whether the cease-fire would
“[Security forces], based on their duty to protect civilians and
the country, will stop terrorist groups from continuing their criminals acts and
the killing of civilians,” the state news agency SANA said. “Since the
announcement of an end to military operations, terrorist attacks have increased
by dozens, causing a large loss of life.”
The Arab League – which along
with the United Nations backed negotiations by Annan leading to the declaration
of a cease-fire – welcomed the Security Council decision to send in
“The Arab League welcomes this decision as it represents an
international will to support the mission of the joint envoy Kofi Annan,”
Egypt’s news agency MENA said, quoting Deputy Arab League Chief Ahmed
Ben-Helli said Annan would report on his mission at an Arab
League meeting on Syria on Tuesday in Qatar.
“Early this morning, we saw
a helicopter and a spotter plane fly overhead.
Ten minutes later, there
was heavy shelling,” said an activist living in the battered Homs district of
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.
head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said shells were
being fired at a rate of one per 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
Although violence has continued throughout the cease-fire, there
has been a significant drop in the daily death toll in fighting which has often
killed more than 100 people a day.
Still, Abu Rabea, an activist in Homs,
dismissed the cease-fire 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
The Security Council resolution condemned the “widespread
violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human
rights abuses by armed groups.”
The text, supported by Russian and China
– which had vetoed previous Syria resolutions – included a vague warning to
Damascus, saying the council would “assess the implementation of this resolution
and to consider further steps as appropriate.”
US Ambassador to the UN
Susan Rice condemned what she said was Syria’s “murderous rampage” over the last
year. Asked if Syrian government shelling of Homs on Saturday was a violation of
the cease-fire, Rice said: “Absolutely.”
The UN estimates Assad’s forces
have killed more than 9,000 people in the uprising.