UN observers stayed with Syria rebels after attack

Unverified amateur footage appears to show the moment of the blast

UN observers who came under fire in north Syria on Tuesday have spent the night with the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Maj Gen Robert Mood, the head of the UN mission, said the six observers in Khan Sheikhoun had "told us that they are happy and safe where they are".

UN officials hope to evacuate the monitors from the town within hours.

The government and opposition blamed each other for the attack, which damaged three UN vehicles and reportedly killed at least 20 people.

Some rebel and opposition sources put the death toll as high as 66.

Extraction

The pro-government television channel, Addounia, said gunmen had opened fire on the monitors in Khan Sheikhoun, which is in Idlib province, but the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops had shelled and shot at a funeral procession.

Start Quote

If [the UN observers] leave, the regime will terminate them because they have witnessed one of its crimes and it does not want them to tell the truth”

End Quote Maj Sami al-Kurdi Free Syrian Army

Video footage posted online appeared to show the UN vehicles surrounded by dozens of anti-government protesters on a street in Khan Sheikhoun when the blast occurred.

Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for UN envoy Kofi Annan, said the UN convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED).

"Three UN vehicles were damaged, but no UN personnel were hurt in this explosion. The mission has sent a patrol team to the area to help to extract those UN military observers," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) said the monitors had not yet been evacuated from the area and confirmed that they had stayed overnight under the FSA's protection.

FSA spokesman Maj Sami al-Kurdi had earlier told the Reuters news agency: "They are now with the Free Army which is protecting them.

"If they leave, the regime will terminate them because they have witnessed one of its crimes and it does not want them to tell the truth."

The 212 unarmed military observers and 68 civilian staff working for UNSMIS are in Syria to monitor the implementation of a six-point peace plan brokered by Mr Annan in March.

A ceasefire was supposed to come into effect on 12 April, but there have been widespread violations by both sides, according to the UN.

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On Wednesday, security forces opened fire on a refugee camp for Palestinians and Syrians from the Golan Heights in the southern province of Deraa, killing at least three people and a child, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. A man was also killed during a raid on the Deraa village of Mleiha al-Aatsh, it added.

The Observatory says more than 900 people have died since the truce came into effect, and more than 12,000 since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The UN put the death toll at more than 9,000 in March.

In a separate development on Tuesday, the main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), re-elected the Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun as its chairman for another three months.

Afterwards, Fawaz Tello, a prominent dissident, resigned from the SNC, saying it had been avoiding democratic reform and resisting international efforts to unify Syria's disparate and disorganised opposition.

Meanwhile, the government said 51% of eligible voters had turned out in last week's parliamentary elections, which were dismissed as a farce by the opposition and the international community.

At least one independent figure was elected to the People's Assembly, but nearly all of the seats are believed to have gone to the ruling Baath Party and its allies.

On Wednesday, Syrian state media quoted President Assad as telling Russian TV in an interview: "The election results prove that people support reform."

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