Both sides breach Syrian ceasefire


REBELS REPORTEDLY launched three separate attacks yesterday on Syrian security personnel in and near Damascus, killing three officers and detonating a bomb in the heart of the capital.

Sana, the state news agency, said a retired lieutenant colonel in intelligence and his brother, a warrant officer, were killed by gunmen in an area southwest of Damascus. It said the bomb exploded under a lorry in Marjeh Square, the target of a previous bombing. A driver and two passengers in a car were wounded.

The Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a third officer died in the township of Barzeh and the local co-ordination committees said nine people were killed around the country.

Both rebel and regime operations were mounted in violation of the two-week-old ceasefire as UN monitors were touring the restive town of Douma, 10km (6 miles) northwest of Damascus.

On Monday, the observatory said 54 civilians and five soldiers died, 31 of the civilians during shelling of the rebel-held Arbaeen district of Hama, visited at the weekend by UN monitors overseeing the ceasefire.

The sequence of events there and following an earlier visit by monitors to Deraa has prompted the opposition to charge that troops seek to punish people who turn out to greet the monitors and condemn the government.

The 11-strong team, established under a peace plan put forward by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, awaits another 19 staff. A deployment of 300 was authorised by the UN Security Council.

Mr Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said he had heard reports of attacks after visits by monitors but argued only “continuous monitoring . . . could put an end to that pattern of behaviour”. He said authorities had “no choice” but to “fulfil their commitment” under the Annan plan because “it is the only plan on the table”.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called on the government to ensure the safety of the monitors and grant them freedom of movement, while Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov warned both sides against interfering with the monitors. Opposition spokesmen argue that the monitors are permitting the government to continue its crackdown on both protesters and rebels.

US president Barack Obama announced fresh sanctions targeting the Syrian and Iranian governments, as well as firms that sell surveillance systems that permit regimes to monitor dissenters.

The US said it will not wait 90 days – the time the UN monitors have to carry out their mission – to take action if Damascus continues to violate the Annan plan. Britain threatened “robust action” if Mr Annan’s mission fails.

Tunisia’s president Moncef Marzouki warned Syrian president Bashar al-Assad he was “finished” and advised him to leave Syria “alive because if you decide to leave dead, this would mean that you will cause the death of tens of thousands of innocent people”.