BEIRUT — The head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria on Sunday called on President Bashar Assad and the country's opposition to stop fighting and allow a tenuous cease-fire to take hold.
Maj. Gen. Robert Mood spoke after arriving in the Syrian capital, Damascus, to take charge of an advance team of 16 U.N. monitors trying to salvage an international peace plan to end the country's 13-month-old crisis.
Under the plan, a cease-fire is supposed to lead to talks between Assad and the opposition on a political solution to a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people.
On Sunday, at least 25 people were killed, including 14 civilians shot dead by troops in a village in central Syria, and three soldiers killed in a clash with army defectors, activists said.
Mood told reporters that the 300 observers the U.N. has authorized for the mission "cannot solve all the problems" in Syria, asking for cooperation from forces loyal to Assad as well as rebels seeking to end his rule.
"We want to have combined efforts focusing on the welfare of the Syrian people," he said, "true cessation of violence in all its forms."
The cease-fire began unraveling almost as soon as it went into effect April 12. The regime has kept up its attacks on opposition strongholds, while rebel fighters have continued to ambush government security forces. Defying a major truce provision, the Syrian military has failed to withdraw tanks and soldiers from city streets.
Despite the violence, the truce still enjoys the support of the international community, largely because it views the plan as the last chance to prevent the country from falling into civil war – and because it does not want to intervene militarily.
Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that while he is still hopeful, "unfortunately, I am also aware how much this plan is at risk."
"That's why it's especially important for this mission to expand quickly," Kellenberger told the Swiss newspaper Der Sonntag. He met with Syrian leaders earlier this month.
Most analysts say the plan has little chance of succeeding, though it could temporarily bring down the level of daily violence.
That has largely been the case in Homs, Syria's third largest city, which has emerged as the heart of the uprising. Regime forces pounded parts of Homs for months, leaving large swaths of the city in ruins, before two U.N. monitors moved into an upscale hotel there last week.
Since then, the level of violence has dropped, although gunbattles still frequently break out. "The shooting has not stopped in Homs," local activist Tarek Badrakhan said Sunday.
An amateur video posted online Saturday showed the observers walking through a heavily damaged neighborhood, where residents collected a body lying in the street and put it in the back of a pickup truck.
Mood, a Norwegian, was appointed head of the observer mission by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. One hundred monitors should be in the country by mid-May, said mission spokesman Neeraj Singh. It is unclear when or if the full contingent of 300 monitors will deploy to Syria.
Mood brings a wealth of Middle East experience to the job, including stints with U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon in 1989-1990 and as the head of a U.N. peacekeeping mission known as UNTSO from 2009 to 2011. That mission was the U.N's first-ever peacekeeping operation, starting after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war to monitor a cease-fire. It now watches cease-fires around the Middle East.
The Syrian state news agency said observers visited the embattled Homs neighborhood of Khaldiyeh on Sunday but provided no further information.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, said government snipers shot and killed two people in the neighborhood of Joret al-Shayah, which borders Khaldiyeh.
The group said an additional 20 people were killed by troops, including 14 in the village of Hamadi Omar in the central Hama province and a child in the southern province of Deir el-Zour. Also Sunday, three Syrian soldiers were killed in clashes with army defectors, it said.
Ban has blamed the regime for widespread violations of the truce – prompting Syria to fire back that his comments were "outrageous" and accuse him of bias.
The spat has further stoked concerns among the Syrian opposition and its Western supporters that Assad is merely playing for time to avoid compliance with a plan that – if fully implemented – would likely sweep him out of office.
Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria.
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|