UN backs Syria monitors plan


Russia and China joined the rest of the UN Security Council today to authorize the deployment of up to 30 unarmed observers to Syria 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 al-Assad's assault on protesters opposed to his rule.

Although Syria's close ally and arms supplier Russia voted in favour of the resolution, Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin made clear that there were limits to the kind of UN action Moscow could 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," he said.

The resolution had 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.

"The resolution calls on "all parties, including the opposition, immediately to cease all armed violence in all its forms.

"It also included a vague warning to Damascus, saying the council would "assess the implementation of this resolution and to consider further steps as appropriate."

Mr Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said yesterday that the first group of observers were on stand-by and ready to fly to Syria as soon as the council approved their deployment.

Earlier it was reported that Syrian forces loyal to Mr Assad had shelled the battered city of Homs today, opposition activists said, the first bombings since a ceasefire began on two days ago.

"There was shelling last night in the old part of the city, in Jouret al-Shiyah and al-Qaradis. And I have heard eight shells fall in the past hour," Karm Abu Rabea, a resident activist who lives in an adjacent neighbourhood, said this morning.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other activists in Homs said shelling had wounded several people overnight. Activist Walid al-Fares showed footage of a thick pillar of smoke rising next to a mosque minaret. The crack of gunfire can also be heard.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied access to journalists, making it impossible to independently verify the reports.