UN authorises 300 more monitors for Syria


UN-ARAB League envoy Kofi Annan yesterday welcomed the security council’s deployment of 300 ceasefire monitors in Syria as members of the advance team toured the central city of Hama under government auspices and the town of Rastan accompanied by rebels.

Mr Annan called the unanimous decision of the council a “pivotal moment for the stabilisation of the country” and urged government forces and rebels to halt attacks and co-operate with the unarmed observers to consolidate the ceasefire imposed 11 days ago.

“The government in particular must desist from the use of heavy weapons and withdraw such weapons and armed units from population centres and implement fully its commitments under the six-point plan.”

The plan also calls for access to contested areas for humanitarian organisations, release of prisoners and dialogue between the regime and opposition.

Mr Annan said the observers should “help create the conditions conducive to launching” a transition to a political system that would meet “the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Syrian people.” Another 22 observers are soon expected to join the eight- member team, which already visited Homs, Deraa and the Damascus suburb of Arbeen. The rest of the contingent could take several weeks to deploy.

The expatriate opposition Syrian National Council praised the council decision but urged the UN to dispatch 3,000 monitors.

On the ground, the ceasefire appeared to be widely observed. Homs, the epicentre of rebel action over the past few weeks, was reported relatively calm. Following a tour by five observers on Saturday, two remained in the city, Syria’s third largest. Activists begged the monitors to stay.

The Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two people were killed when troops shelled the restive town of Douma 10 kilometres northwest of Damascus and a third died at the village of Hteita when troops manning a checkpoint opened fire. The Observatory also reported that three people were slain in the northern province of Idlib, overrun by rebels for several months.

The official Sana news agency said an officer was killed and 42 cadets were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded next to their bus in Aleppo province. Two devices were said to have been disarmed on the Raqqa-Aleppo highway and another bomb targeted a freight train in Idlib province.

The UN High Commission for Refugees has announced that Jordan requires an injection of aid to deal with the 95-100,000 Syrians who have taken refuge in the kingdom since unrest erupted 13 months ago. Over the past month it registered 12,500 refugees.

Many refugees are from towns and villages in the southern Deraa province and stay with family and clan members across the border in Jordan.

“We don’t have the water or the facilities to provide for large numbers of Syrians,” a senior Jordanian political figure told The Irish Times.

Although the rains have been plentiful over the past two years, Jordan has an acute water shortage while the economy has been seriously damaged by the unrest in Syria, a major trading partner.