UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council scheduled a vote Saturday on a resolution authorizing the deployment of the first wave of U.N. military observers to monitor a cease-fire between the Syrian government and opposition fighters which appears to be largely holding.
The draft resolution, obtained Friday night by The Associated Press, calls on both sides to immediately "cease all armed violence in all its forms" and calls on the Syrian government "to implement visibly" international envoy Kofi Annan's demand that it pull troops and heavy weapons out of cities and towns.
The cease-fire, which formally took effect Thursday, is at the center of Annan's peace plan, which is aimed at ending more than a year of bloodshed that has killed over 9,000 people, according to the United Nations, and to launch inclusive Syrian-led talks on the country's political future.
Security Council members met behind closed doors for several hours Friday to discuss rival drafts by the U.S. and its European allies and by Russia, Syria's most important council ally.
Both called for the deployment of an advance team of up to 30 unarmed military observers to initiate contacts with both sides and begin to report on implementation of "a full cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties" – and so does the final text.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, the current council president, announced that the council will vote at 11 a.m. EDT (1600 GMT) Saturday.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was waiting to see the final draft but told reporters, "I'm not completely satisfied with the outcome of the discussion."
Churkin stressed, however, that "We want it to be a vote which will keep the Security Council united, which is crucial."
Russia is Syria's most powerful ally, and with China it has vetoed two Security Council resolutions that would have condemned President Bashar Assad's crackdown on protesters who rose up against his authoritarian family's 40-year rule.
Rice refused to predict how Russia would vote on Saturday, saying, "We've been to this movie so many times, let's not."
Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told a news conference in Geneva that an advance team of "around 10 or 12" observers, that could quickly be increased to 30, is "standing by to board planes and to get themselves on the ground as soon as possible" once the Security Council approves their deployment.
Troops already in the region from Asian, African and South American countries acceptable to Assad's regime could be used for the mission, Fawzi said.
The draft resolution to be voted on – sponsored by the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Colombia and Morocco – expresses the council's intention to immediately establish a larger U.N. supervision mission in Syria to monitor a cease-fire. Fawzi said additional Security Council approval will be required to increase the deployment to 250 observers.
While the resolution would only authorize a 30-strong advance team, it would spell out requirements for the Syrian government to support the observers including allowing the observers unimpeded freedom of movement and the right to interview any Syrian in private.
Russia's Churkin eliminated them in his proposed text, but they remain in the final draft being put to a vote.
Russia also tried to drop a Western-backed call for condemnation of "the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities." The final draft was changed to condemn "the widespread violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human rights abuses by armed groups."
Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, asked the 15-nation Security Council to approve sending a U.N. observer mission as soon as possible.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned Friday against overly high expectations, given the small size of the initial team and the fact that it would not be able to be everywhere, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters Friday that before any observers can be deployed, there would have to be a technical agreement on how the U.N. force will operate, Annan would have to make an independent report on the situation in Syria, and the Syrian government would have to approve the whole package.
In the first major test of the U.N.-brokered truce, thousands of Syrians poured into the streets Friday for anti-government protests, activists said. Security forces responded by firing in the air and beating some protesters, but there was no immediate sign of widespread shelling, sniper attacks or other potential violations of the cease-fire.
Fawzi told reporters the cease-fire has been "relatively respected" despite government troops and heavy weapons still in cities and continuing abuses.
"We hope both sides will sustain this calm, this relative calm," Fawzi said. "We are thankful that there's no heavy shelling, that the number of casualties are dropping, that the number of refugees who are crossing the borders are also dropping."
Annan told the Security Council during a closed video briefing on Thursday he was "encouraged" at the start of a fragile cease-fire.
But Fawzi quoted Annan as telling the council that "the continued presence of Syrian armed forces, including armor, in and around population centers, must end immediately. Violence in all its forms, including arbitrary arrests, torture and abductions, must stop."
John Heilprin contributed to this report from Geneva.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|