Syria objects to size of UN team of monitors


BEIRUT – Syria has challenged the United Nations chief over the size and scope of a UN truce monitoring mission, resisting a larger presence as its army shelled targets in the city of Homs in violation of the ceasefire.

Despite the seven-day-old truce agreement between government and rebel forces, explosions yesterday rocked the battered Khalidiyah quarter of Homs as the army resumed what has become a daily barrage of heavy mortar shelling.

In northern Idlib province, six members of the security forces were killed by a bomb placed by an “armed terrorist group”, state news agency Sana said. It was the second such attack in two days.

While the truce has held in some parts of Syria since President Bashar al-Assad pledged to enforce it last week, in strong opposition areas such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa, the army has kept up attacks on rebels, using heavy weapons in violation of the pledge by Damascus to pull back.

Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem told a news conference in Beijing that no more than 250 truce monitors were needed, and they should come from what he called “neutral” countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – all of which have been more sympathetic to Dr Assad than the West and the Arab League states.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki- moon was due to present proposals for the next phase of the mission yesterday to the Security Council. He says more monitors are needed for credible supervision of the truce in a country the size of Syria in the 13th month of a conflict marked by extreme violence and over 10,000 deaths.

Gunfire erupted close to a team of observers who had been swarmed by protesters near Damascus yesterday, giving a taste of the challenge facing the monitoring mission. Protesters had surrounded their cars when automatic weapons fire sent the crowds scurrying for safety.

There were no reports of casualties, but scenes of monitors’ vehicles immobilised in a crowd followed by pictures of men running away while automatic weapons fire rattles in the air, were an ominous echo of an earlier Arab League monitoring mission that collapsed in failure in January. – (Reuters)