Middle East

UN observers visit Homs to monitor shaky Syria truce

Amateur video purporting to show an explosion in Homs, Syria, on 20 April
Image caption Homs has been heavily shelled by government forces

UN monitors in Syria have visited the battered city of Homs amid a rare lull in fighting between troops and rebels.

The observers met the governor and saw parts of the city, a UN spokesman said.

Activists say the violence stopped for the first time in weeks just to make it look as though the Syrian government is observing a UN-backed truce, and that fighting will resume soon.

The visit came ahead of a Security Council vote on boosting the number of UN observers in Syria to 300.

The draft resolution would see military observers and civilian experts initially deployed for three months.

A handful of monitors are already in Syria to monitor the fragile ceasefire brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.

Homs has been a leading focus of unrest in the 13-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

"A team of observers have been sent to Homs and met the governor," UN spokesman Khaled al-Masri said on Saturday.

But rebels said tanks had been only temporarily hidden out of sight and shelling would resume as soon as the observers left.

"It is very clear that the Syrian government can stop the violence whenever it wants at anytime in the country," Homs opposition activist Walid al-Fares told Reuters news agency.

Although overall violence has fallen since the truce was signed by the UN and Syria on Thursday, many violations have been reported by activists and journalists on the ground.

According to Reuters news agency, at least 23 people were killed on Friday, 10 of them in a roadside bomb targeting security forces and most of the others in army shelling on the city of Homs.

The Damascus authorities say they are fighting armed terrorist groups and that the ceasefire allows them to respond to attacks.

The UN estimates that government forces have killed more than 9,000 people in the uprising. Syria says foreign-backed militants have killed more than 2,600 soldiers and police.

Aid fears

On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called for a global arms embargo and further sanctions if the government continues to break the ceasefire.

The international community has also been looking at ways of getting humanitarian aid to Syria, with diplomats meeting in Geneva on Friday to discuss the situation.

They agreed to a draft plan to provide $180m (£112m) for food, medicine and other supplies to about one million people inside Syria. That comes on top of the aid that is being delivered to refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries.

The plan still needs Syria's approval, with the key issue being the number of aid workers allowed into the country.

Foreign ministers from the Friends of Syria coalition, meeting in Paris on Thursday evening, agreed that the ceasefire and Mr Annan's peace plan were the "last hope" of avoiding civil war in Syria.

The Friends of Syria group includes Western and Arab nations, but not Russia or China, who have blocked previous attempts to introduce UN sanctions.