Russia and China joined the rest of the UN Security Council on Saturday to authorize the deployment to Syria of up to 30 unarmed observers to monitor the country’s fragile ceasefire as called for by UN-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan.

It is the first resolution the 15-nation council approved since the anti-government uprising in Syria began 13 months ago. Moscow and Beijing twice vetoed council resolutions condemning Syrian President Bashar Assad’s assault on protesters opposed to his rule.

Opposition activists said at least six people were killed in Syria on Saturday as the Security Council tentatively was scheduled to vote to authorize an advance team to monitor a fragile three-day-old ceasefire.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Saturday that the advance team would be sent soon and that he would make proposals by next Wednesday regarding a full observer mission.

“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. That I will discuss with Syrian authorities and I will instruct DPKO [the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations] to take the necessary measures,” Ban told United Nations radio in Geneva.

Despite Saturday’s unanimous vote, there were no signs that the divisions that had been preventing the Security Council from taking action had been overcome.

Syria’s close ally and arms supplier Moscow was satisfied with the resolution’s final draft, although Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, made clear that there were limits to the kind of action Moscow would support.

“Out of respect for the sovereignty of Syria we have cautioned against destructive attempts at external interference or imposing any kind of illusory fixes,” Churkin said.

Russia accused the United States and Europe of having tricked it into using a UN mandate to protect civilians in Libya to enable NATO engage in “regime change.”

Russia abstained from a March 2011 vote and allowed a council resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians to pass.

Click for full JPost coverage

French Ambassador Gerard Araud added that the new-found unity on the council may not be permanent. “Our consensus is fragile,” he said.

Before agreeing to support what was originally a US-drafted text, Russia demanded that the US and European delegations dilute it so that it would not “demand” that Syria comply. The approved resolution uses softer language so that it “calls upon” Syria to implement it.

Churkin also demanded that the council urge the opposition as well as the Syrian government to change their behavior.

The approved resolution has the council “condemning the widespread violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human rights abuses by armed groups, recalling that those responsible shall be held accountable.”

It calls on “all parties, including the opposition, immediately to cease all armed violence in all its forms.”

The text also includes a vague warning to Damascus, saying the council would “assess the implementation of this resolution and... consider further steps as appropriate.”

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari reiterated Damascus’s commitment to Annan’s six-point peace plan, which calls for an end to fighting, the withdrawal of troops, dialogue between the government and opposition, and a “political transition” for the country.

“The time for violence is gone,” Ja’afari said, though he accused the opposition of “50 violations” of the truce since Thursday.

Annan had asked the council to approve the deployment of an advance team of monitors as soon as possible.

His spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said on Friday that the first group of observers was on stand-by and ready to fly to Syria as soon as the council approved its deployment.

Annan is planning for an observer force that will have up to 250 monitors.

Western council members welcomed the resolution but had harsh words for Assad’s government.

US Ambassador Susan Rice condemned what she said was Damascus’s “murderous rampage” over the past year, adding that the sporadic violence since Thursday’s ceasefire cast doubt on the government’s commitment to peace.

Asked if the Syrian forces’ shelling on Saturday of the battered city of Homs was a violation of the ceasefire, Rice said: “Absolutely.”

Britain had similar remarks.

“We regret that it comes only after the Syrian people have for over one year suffered unimaginable brutality at the hands of a regime that has prioritized its own survival over the needs, rights and aspirations of the people it should serve and protect,” British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said.

Lyall Grant and France’s Araud both said that Assad’s forces had killed over 10,000 people, higher than the UN estimate of 9,000.

On the ground, activists on Saturday reported the first shelling in the city of Homs by forces loyal to Assad since the ceasefire took effect.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four people were killed during a funeral march in Aleppo, and another from shelling in Homs. A sixth person succumbed to wounds inflicted by torture in the central town of Rastan, straddling the Damascus-Aleppo road.

Tariq Alhomayed, editor-inchief of the Asharq Alawsat newspaper, wrote Saturday that President Barack Obama needed to reassert US leadership over the Syria crisis.

“Mr. Obama, please return to the Syrian issue today, particularly as it is more than enough that the international community has, over the past year, provided Assad with one opportunity after another – or shall we say a license – to kill more Syrian people,” Alhomayed wrote in an op-ed in the Saudi English-language newspaper Arab News.

“Mr. President,” he wrote, “return to the Syrian issue, for all excuses have been exhausted.”

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger