Middle East

Rising Syria deaths question UN monitoring mission

UN observers visit Homs, 23 April
Image caption The UN hopes to deploy as many as 300 observers

A sharp rise in the number of deaths in the Syrian uprising is casting fresh doubt on the success of a UN peace plan, and testing a ceasefire deal.

Activists said nearly 70 people were killed on Monday, most in a government crackdown in the city of Hama.

The US said the UN monitoring mission was "risky and dangerous".

The UN is pressing to increase its monitors from a handful to 300 and chief envoy Kofi Annan is currently briefing the Security Council again.

A UN-brokered ceasefire came into effect on 12 April, but although the overall level of violence has dropped since then, President Bashar al-Assad's government has been accused of failing to abide by key terms of the truce plan.

Mr Annan's spokesman said there were credible reports that people who met monitors were then approached and sometimes killed by security forces.

In remarks broadcast on UN television, Ahmed Fawzi described the reports as "totally unacceptable".

He added there was evidence Syria had not withdrawn heavy weapons from urban centres as promised.

"[The Syrian authorities] are claiming that this has happened," he said, quoted by Reuters news agency.

"Satellite imagery, however, and credible reports show that this has not fully happened, so this is unacceptable, and joint special envoy Kofi Annan will be saying this to the Security Council today [Tuesday] when he addresses them in closed session."


Activists have pointed to the situation in Hama as an example of the dangers of the UN mission.

One activist there, Mousab al-Hamadi, told the Associated Press (AP) news agency dissidents were punished for coming out to greet the visiting UN observers on Sunday, when they chanted "Long live Syria! Down with Assad".

Syrian troops reportedly fired shells and automatic weapons in the northern Arbaeen and Mashaa al-Arbaeen districts on Monday. Some 40 people were said to have died.

Another activist told AP: "Those observers brought destruction upon us. Any area they visit, the regime attacks. It's a tragedy."

Samer, in Hama, has told the BBC government attacks on the city have continued despite the ceasefire deal, and that Monday's assault was the worst since the truce was announced.

"There have been attacks every day since the ceasefire deal was announced. The regime is in constant breach of this ceasefire.

"What happens is the observers visit neighbourhoods in the city, then once they leave, the shooting and shelling starts again."

He said activists had been expecting further attacks on Tuesday, and that all shops apart from chemists were closed as a result.

The government's brief account said only that security forces "pursued armed terrorist groups" which had been attacking and killing citizens in the area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels had earlier targeted the car of an army officer in the city, killing him and an assistant. And on Tuesday it reported that three intelligence officers were killed in Damascus.

Syrian TV also reported a car bomb had exploded in the centre of the capital on Tuesday, injuring three people.

A similar situation to Hama was reported in the city of Deraa, where anti-government protesters who greeted UN observers were later reportedly subjected to tear gas and gunfire from security forces.


The BBC's Jim Muir, in neighbouring Lebanon, says that, in contrast, the situation in the flashpoint city of Homs has been quieter, as two UN observers are now permanently stationed there.

He says that is why UN officials are calling this a "pivotal moment" in the pacification process, hoping that the deployment of the full contingent of 300 monitors over the coming weeks will change the political dynamics and prepare the way for dialogue towards a settlement.

The UN currently has 11 unarmed observers under its Supervision Mission to Syria (UNSMIS). The UN passed a resolution on 14 April for a total of 30, then another resolution last Saturday to increase the number to up to 300.

Mr Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, has said he believes the deployment of the 300 monitors can begin next week.

But following Monday's violence, US permanent representative to the UN Susan Rice told the Security Council: "The regime's long track record is one of dependable deceit and deception, thus this Syrian mission is unusually risky and dangerous."

UN political chief B Lynn Pascoe added that "human rights violations are still perpetrated with impunity".

On Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon again insisted that Syria "should provide full protection of our monitors and ensure their freedom of access, freedom of movement".

The UN says about 9,000 people have died since pro-democracy protests began in March 2011. In February, the Syrian government put the death toll at 3,838 - 2,493 civilians and 1,345 security forces personnel.