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While we wait, civilians die.The United States seems to have two plans to deal with what is fast becoming a civil war in Syria. Plan A calls for the full implementation of the UN ceasefire and the complete cooperation of Bashar Assad, a dictator who would, at the risk of his very life, give up some power to the opposition.

Plan B, on the other hand, envisions a military response through air power. For that to be implemented, Plan A must fail and more Syrians must die.

Just how many more Syrians must die no one can say. But it seems pretty clear that the toll — now in excess of 9,000 — must mount before the U.S., NATO and maybe the Turks and the Saudis will move to bring the slaughter to a halt. Bloomberg News reports that “more than 500 people” have been killed since the start of the ceasefire on April 12. This ceasefire is more fire than cease.

Few people in Washington have much faith in the UN plan, advanced by former Secretary General Kofi Annan. He has been doing what he has been trained to do — go through the motions of peacemaking.

Time is not on the side of moderation or accommodation. The longer the killing goes on, the more radical and extreme the anti-Assad forces become.

The intelligentsia that initially supported the movement will be marginalized by Islamic extremists — volunteers from nearby Arab countries who can’t abide Assad and his secularism. (Already, bombings have been reported.)

As with Saddam Hussein, his late neighbor, Assad and his family have long been at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood and similar organizations. In 1982, Assad’s father killed perhaps 20,000 in the Brotherhood stronghold of Hama. It is now payback time.

Those of us who have long advocated that the U.S. put some muscle into its diplomacy — even bomb Syrian military installations and impose a no-fly zone — have to concede the difficulties entailed.

The Syrian air-defense system is thick, designed by the Russians to deter an Israeli attack. The composition of the Syrian opposition is largely unknown. More worrisome, Syria has a vast stockpile of chemical and biological weapons.

Still, none of this is insurmountable. Israel was able to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, apparently without losing a single airplane — and whatever Israel can do, the U.S. can do as well. What’s missing at the moment is not the wherewithal to deal militarily with the Assad regime but the will to do so — and to do so expeditiously. This is a matter of leadership and, so far, President Obama has provided precious little.

In “Prague Winter,” her compelling new memoir, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright emphasizes the importance of leadership — or its lack — in world affairs. As a woman, she is the Czechoslovakian-born daughter of Josef Korbel and Anna Spiegelova. As a diplomat, she is a daughter of Munich, the infamous agreement that turned part of her country over to Nazi Germany.

The Munich analogy can be overdone. (Saddam was no Hitler.) But the analogy to the supposed antidote to Munich, Vietnam, can also be overdone. Not every military action is a quagmire. The military interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya did not require boots on the ground.

The Syrian revolution is going to spiral into something awful. The longer it lasts, the more people die and the greater the chance of it spilling across borders. The plan, as it is now, is to wait for the inevitable — the failure of Kofi Annan and, after that, the predictable failure of an arms embargo that will weaken the opposition much more than it will Assad.

Somehow, multiple failures are supposed to lead to success. That’s worse than Munich. It’s madness.

Source: Daily News 

 
 
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New sanctions target those who use information and communications technologies to facilitate regimes’ human rights abuses. 

President Barack Obama has announced new sanctions against individuals and entities that use information and communications technologies to facilitate the Syrian and Iranian regimes’ commission of grave human rights abuses against their people: 

“These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them. And it’s one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come, the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people, and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny.”

Authorized by an executive order signed by President Obama, the sanctions relating to the misuse of communications technology were imposed on the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, (the GID), and its Director Ali Mamluk. Mr. Mamluk has overseen a communications program which has been implicated in the arbitrary arrests of regime opponents, mistreatment and death of detainees in custody, and has received technical and analytical help from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. 

The Syrian communications firm Syriatel was also designated for recording cell phone conversations and severing network connections in Syria at the behest of the Assad regime.

Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, its Law Enforcement Forces, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Guard Cyber Defense Command were named in the new executive order as well. Their abuses include identifying Internet users through their IP address, monitoring e-mail and online activity of individuals critical of the regime; requiring owners of Internet cafes in Iran to install equipment to aid the government in monitoring the activities of the Iranian public; and involvement in the arrest, beatings, sexual abuse, prolonged interrogations, and coerced confessions of political prisoners. 

The Iranian internet service provider Datak Telecom was also named for its collaboration with Iranian authorities to provide information on Iranians trying to circumvent the regime’s filters. 

In a fact sheet, the White House emphasized that the sanctions take aim at both the “oppressive governments” of Syria and Iran, as well as “the companies that enable them with technology they use for oppression and the ‘digital guns for hire’ who create or operate systems used to monitor, track and target citizens for killing, torture or other grave abuses.” In his executive order President Obama said the serious human rights abuses against the people of Iran and Syria by their governments through the malign use of technology “threaten the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” 


Source: VOA

 
 
The United States seems to have two plans to deal with what is fast becoming a civil war in Syria. Plan A calls for the full implementation of the U.N. cease-fire and the complete cooperation of Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who would, at the risk of his very life, give up some power to the opposition. Plan B, on the other hand, envisions a military response through air power. For that to be implemented, Plan A must fail and more Syrians must die.

Just how many more Syrians must die no one can say. But it seems pretty clear that the toll — now in excess of 9,000 — must mount before the United States, NATO and maybe the Turks and the Saudis will move to bring the slaughter to a halt. Bloomberg News reports that “more than 500 people” have been killed since the start of the cease-fire on April 12. This cease-fire is more fire than cease.

Few people in Washington have much faith in the U.N. plan, advanced by former secretary-general Kofi Annan. He has been doing what he has been trained to do — go through the motions of peacemaking. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but there is a protocol to these things that has to be honored. Yet as each ticket is punched, more people die.

Time is not on the side of moderation or accommodation. The longer the killing goes on, the more radical and extreme the anti-Assad forces become. The intelligentsia that initially supported the movement will be marginalized by Islamic extremists — volunteers from nearby Arab countries who can’t abide Assad and his secularism. (Already, bombings have been reported.) As with Saddam Hussein, his late neighbor, Assad and his family have long been at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood and similar organizations. In 1982, Assad’s father killed perhaps 20,000 in the Brotherhood stronghold of Hama. It is now payback time.

Those of us who have long advocated that the United States put some muscle into its diplomacy — even bomb Syrian military installations and impose a no-fly zone — have to concede the difficulties entailed. The Syrian air-defense system is thick, designed by the Russians to deter an Israeli attack. The composition of the Syrian opposition is largely unknown (to quote Butch Cassidy: “Who are those guys?”). More worrisome, Syria has a vast stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. The weapons have not been used — they’re hard to control — but a regime fighting for its life may well use everything at its disposal. Saddam did against the Kurds.

Still, none of this is insurmountable. Israel was able to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 apparently without losing a single airplane — and whatever Israel can do, the United States can do as well. What’s missing at the moment is not the wherewithal to deal militarily with the Assad regime but the will to do so — and to do so expeditiously. This is a matter of leadership and, so far, Barack Obama has provided precious little.

In “Prague Winter,” her compelling newmemoir, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright emphasizes the importance of leadership — or its lack — in world affairs. As a woman, she is the Czechoslovakian-born daughter of Josef Korbel and Anna Spiegelova. As a diplomat, she is a daughter of Munich, the infamous agreement that turned part of her country over to Nazi Germany. She rebuts Tolstoy, “who argued that scholars routinely exaggerate the ability of the great and powerful to control events,” by citing the weak and vacillating leaders who failed to recognize evil and stand up to Hitler. They were accessories before the fact, changing history by inaction.

The Munich analogy can be overdone. (Saddam was no Hitler.) But the supposed antidote to Munich, Vietnam, can also be overdone. Not every military action is a quagmire — and, anyway, quagmires can be avoided by using air power. The military interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya did not require boots on the ground. They ended when they were finished — a brilliant exit strategy.

The Syrian revolution is going to spiral into something awful. The longer it lasts, the more people die and the greater the chance of it spilling across borders. The plan, as it is now, is to wait for the inevitable — the failure of Kofi Annan and, after that, the predictable failure of an arms embargo that will weaken the opposition much more than it will Assad. Somehow, multiple failures are supposed to lead to success. That’s worse than Munich. It’s madness.

Source: The Washington Post 
 
 

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With the rebels and government at near-stalemate, the country's fate is likely to be more war and 'Lebanonisation'. 
New York, NY - 
The conflict in Syria has burned to a hurting stalemate, punctuated by barrages of cannon fire. It is likely to go on this way for some time.

Participants in the struggle are exhausted and hurt; many of the most willing are dead. The war and rebellion have undermined Syria's international power and left it dependent upon Russia and an ever more isolated Iran.

Into this space moved the Annan plan, a putative cease fire, and the deployment of some UN monitors. Typically, such plans are conceived in terms of the "resolution" of the conflict, initiating a "process" leading to peace.

For the actors and parties to the conflict, such plans become part of the strategic terrain, to be played for survival and advantage. That is, peace plans are the conflict, a way of carrying on the war. The Palestinian struggle is a paradigmatic example. It has been conducted in and through a "peace process" for two decades.

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Peace plans and war plans share a fatal assumption: war can be controlled, brought to a resolution, one that reflects some conception of what is right. That might be the victory of the righteous side (the one you are on), or democratic elections and a "peace and reconciliation process".

But war plays many tricks on politics. The illusion that war is a space of potentially successful strategic action - where one might rationally achieve war aims (or peace aims) - is one of them.

It is too horrifying to consider that war may be a state of being, rather than an instrument of policy.

The conflict in Syria has realised precisely no-one's aims or desires. It has dismantled Syrian society, economy and polity, and replaced them with suffering.

Nothing will ever be the same again.

This is most obviously so with the corpses strewn amid the rubble of many of Syria's cities. But it is also so in the sense of the very order that comprised state and society in Syria, and in the taken for granted truths that governed the lives of Syrians. These are all now of the past.

The tragedy is that, in resorting to war, war wins. What the kind of conflict being in fought in Syria gets you is stalemate and "Lebanonisation": a long term, many-sided conflict that admits no clear resolution.

The regime cannot entirely eradicate rebellious populations. The rebels cannot overthrow the regime.

There are only so many tanks and artillery batteries to shell towns and neighbourhoods. Men and equipment grow tired and need recuperation. Meanwhile, rebel bands living rough can do only so much, even with foreign supplied arms, while "terrorist cells" can blow things up, but achieve little else.


Worse, war fragments both the regime and the opposition, and draws in or creates additional actors, more "sides" to the struggle.

Here, one has to appreciate war's diabolical character. In these conditions, war is more than unwinnable. Various groups arise, and through arms, finance and influence come to play a role and have a voice. Each can gain control of only a dimension of power - a neighbourhood or city, an ethnic group or faction, a source of foreign patronage, command of a diaspora or of refugee camps.

We like to think that each "side" in a war represents some set of values, as if parties to a conflict were characters in a drama. Over here are the good guys, fighting for Free Syria, other there the bad ones, the regime and the "foreign terrorist groups". In between them all are the innocent bystanders, the civilians.

But in fact it is organisation and power - however temporary and frail - that wages war. Rebel groups, state security bureaucracies, "terrorist" cells, even local neighbourhood militia are what wage war. While each has its own character, leadership and sources of support, all must remake themselves in the image of war if they are to fight and survive. They must become tough and brutal, willing to kill and die, and, above all, they must learn to sacrifice long term ideals for today's realities.

War is a plague that wipes out the life that was and reduces all to the barest of levels.

As the Annan plan runs into the ground, there will be renewed calls for Western intervention, presumably in the form of air strikes. The likely outcome of such strikes will be to further entrench "Lebanonisation". Without a substantial ground force, which the West will not provide and which the rebels lack, there will be no means of decisively defeating the regime.

Moreover, it is little appreciated in the West that the credibility of the rebel forces in Syria has already suffered gravely from their association with the West and its regional allies. Many see the rebels as little more than extensions of Saudi, Qatari, US and Western European policy.

So the rebels have the worst of all worlds. The "international community" talks peace and sends a few monitors; the West talks war and sends only small amounts of aid. The regime is gravely weakened but shows few signs of collapse. Even if it did collapse, continued civil war would be the likely outcome.

In other words, the war will continue.


Source: Al Ajazeera 
 
 

Dozens of additional U.N. monitors are expected in Syria this week, even after the mission's leader admitted the group's efforts are futile unless all sides commit to peace.

"Ten unarmed observers, 30 unarmed observers, 300 unarmed observers, even 1,000 unarmed observers cannot solve all the problems," Maj. Gen. Robert Mood said after arriving in Damascus on Sunday. "So I call on everyone to help us and cooperate with us in this very challenging task ahead of us."

But his words apparently had no effect in stopping the violence, which continued despite Syria's acceptance of a U.N.-backed peace plan.

Both the government and opposition activists reported two explosions in the northwestern city of Idlib on Monday.

A total of nine civilians and law enforcement personnel were killed and about 100 people -- mostly civilians -- were injured in the two suicide car bombings, Syrian state-run TV reported. The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said one explosion took place at a security building.

A group of U.N. observers visited the sites of the two blasts, state-run TV reported.

Elsewhere, random gunfire from the Syrian army killed one person Monday morning in the Homs province town of Talbiseh, according to the LCC.

And gunfire and explosions echoed through Damascus early Monday, opposition activists said, as the Syrian regime and opposition members traded blame for recent attacks in the capital.

Syrian state-run media showed images Monday of a damaged police car in Damascus and a pillar with a missing chunk of concrete outside the Central Bank of Syria building.

Both were attacked by an "armed terrorist group" using rocket-propelled grenades, state TV reported, adding that four police officers were wounded in the first attack and no casualties were reported from the bank attack.

But the LCC said the regime's security apparatus "has resorted to fabricating staged explosions that have taken the lives of dozens of Syrians." The group cited "suspicious explosions in or near several government buildings, including the official state media and television office; a security center in Rukneddine; and the Central Bank building."

The group said it "holds the regime and its security apparatus fully responsible for the bombings and the resultant effects."

"These tricks no longer fool anyone, especially given the fact that the regime has resorted to these escalations every time there is political movement at the Arab, regional or international level to find a political solution to the crisis in which the regime kills its people who are demanding freedom," the LCC said.

At least 29 people were reported dead across Syria on Sunday, including a child and three soldiers who had defected, opposition activists said.

In Idlib province, security forces executed a recruit because he refused to fire on civilians, the LCC said.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, meanwhile, reported 14 army and law enforcement members were laid to rest Sunday after they were targeted by "armed terrorist groups."

Both the Syrian regime and the rebel Free Syrian Army have accepted a peace plan laid out by U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan. A key element of the plan involves a cease-fire by all parties.

"To achieve the success of Kofi Annan's six-point plan ... I call on all to stop the violence and to help us on a continued cessation of violence in all its forms," said Mood, the head of the U.N. observer mission.

About 30 observers were on the ground by Monday, with 50 expected by Friday, Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said via Twitter. The U.N. Security Council has authorized a total of up to 300 unarmed military monitors for the mission in Syria.

"This is a matter of utmost urgency for the United Nations, and all efforts are in place to make sure that we get the people on the ground as quickly as possible," Neeraj Singh, the observer team's spokesman, said Sunday. "... Apart from Damascus, we have permanently based observers in Homs, Hama, Daraa and Idlib, so this process will continue."

Opposition activists in Homs, a bastion of anti-government sentiment, have said attacks by Bashar al-Assad's forces stop only during U.N. monitors' visits.

"We were able to get the civilians' corpses out of the streets because of the help and presence of the U.N. monitors," one man says in a video purportedly shot Saturday on the streets of Homs. "The corpses were dumped on the ground for over 40 days, and we couldn't get to them because of Assad's thugs and snipers. The bodies are decomposed, so we had to wear muzzles because of the foul smell so we can get to them and bury them."

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video.

Since the cease-fire deadline passed April 12, more than 700 people have been killed, the LCC said.

Syria has been engulfed in violence since March 2011, when government forces started cracking down on demonstrators who were peacefully protesting al-Assad's regime. The president's family has ruled Syria for 42 years. Some opposition members have since taken up arms against the regime forces.

The United Nations estimates at least 9,000 people have died in the conflict, while opposition groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.

CNN cannot independently verify reports of violence and deaths within Syria, as the government has restricted access by most of the international media.

Source: CNN
 
 
The Foreign Secretary William Hague has said that he is not satisfied with the Syrian Government's implementation of the UN-brokered ceasefire.

Speaking at the launch of the Foreign Office's guide to human rights and democracy around the world, he said that Russia and China remain a "constraint" on what can be done:

The regime is not fully implementing the terms of the ceasefire, people continue to be killed, although the violence is not on as great a scale as it was before April 12th. It is very clear that the Assad regime has only complied with any of the terms of the ceasefire under duress, and is not being as helpful to the work of the monitors as it should be. Clearly this cannot go on indefinitely, there is a limit to the patience of the international community on this.


Source: itv News 
 
 
DAMASCUS, Syria, April 30 (UPI) -- Suicide bombers killed eight people and wounded nearly 100 in the northwestern city of Idlib Monday, Syrian officials said.

In other attacks, the officials said, four police officers were injured near a hospital and anti-tank rockets damaged the Central Bank office in Damascus.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency reported an "armed terrorist group" detonated two bombs near a military compound in Idlib, The New York Times reported.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group, said more than 20 people were killed in Idlib, mostly government security forces.

Reporting restrictions in Syria make independent verification difficult.

SANA said "an armed terrorist group" targeted a patrol near a hospital, injuring four police officers.

The official news agency said the attack at the Central Bank caused "only material damages."

Reports of the attacks came weeks after a peace plan proffered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was put in place. Critics said a cease-fire has not succeeded in two of its key goals: stopping the fighting in the bloody revolt against President Bashar Assad and forcing the Syrian Army to withdraw from cities and towns.

If a U.N. monitoring force is is expanded as Annan it will increase from about 15 observers now in Syria now to a full complement of 300 during the next few months. Supporters of the plan said a larger monitoring force will deter violence that has continued since March 2011.

Opposition organizations have said Syrian forces resume attacks after monitors leave and kill pro-democracy protesters who speak to the observers.

SANA reported Syrian officials sent a letter to Annan that listed 1,149 "documented and verifiable [cease-fire] violations, by armed elements," and urged the U.N. Security Council to act "evenhandedly toward violations."

Gen. Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the U.N. observer forces, said in Damascus Sunday he would "work with all side of the Syrian crisis" to halt the violence, SANA reported.

The United Nations estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict; other groups said the death toll is more than 11,000.

Source: UPI 
 
 
For a year, a chorus of pundits has been proclaiming that the Arab Spring has ushered in a new era in the Middle East in which the United States no longer is the “indispensable nation” Bill Clinton once described. Syria has proved them wrong.

To be sure, so far the evidence is a negative: the failure of the United Nations or Syria’s neighbors to stop the country’s slide into civil war in the absence of U.S. leadership. The case is nevertheless conclusive — because every other power or organization that aspired to step into the vacuum left by Washington has tried and failed to deliver in Damascus.

Start with Turkey, Syria’s neighbor and former ally, which according to some was the big winner from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the turmoil elsewhere. Last year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan confidently dispatched his foreign minister with a message for Bashar al-Assad: Stop killing civilians, meet with your opposition, and adopt democratic reforms. Assad said he would; he lied, and went on killing. He has since repeated the maneuver with the Arab League, Russia and U.N. envoy Kofi Annan.

Erdogan, a mercurial man, was infuriated. He allowed opposition leaders, including the Free Syrian Army, to take refuge and organize in Turkey. He repeatedly suggested that he supported the creation of a humanitarian corridor or refuge in Syria — in other words, a strip of territory that would be taken over by outside powers and if necessary, defended with military force.

But there is no humanitarian corridor. The reason is fairly simple: The Turkish military would not launch such a bold initiative without the active backing of the United States, if not NATO as a whole. It’s not that Turkey can’t do it: In 1998, it successfully intimidated the Syrian regime simply by massing its large army on the border.

But this crisis has exposed the weaknesses in Erdogan’s regional ambitions. As a former imperial power under the Ottomans, Turkey cannot intervene in an Arab state without risking a broad backlash. Its mildly Islamist Sunni government raises suspicions among Syria’s large Christian and Kurdish minorities — not to mention Assad’s Alawites.

Sectarian tensions have also undermined the Arab League’s effort to assert itself. Sunni states, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that have been eager to intervene have been checked by Shiite governments in Iraq and Lebanon. Meanwhile, independent efforts by the Gulf states to provide arms to the opposition have floundered.

As for Russia, its bid to reestablish itself as a player in the Middle East by brokering a Syrian settlement is also failing. The Kremlin wants to save Assad, but he refuses to take even the modest steps needed to open the way for a regime-preserving deal. Moscow can prevent the Security Council from authorizing tougher sanctions or military intervention, and it cansupply the Syrian army with weapons and fuel. But the past few weeks have shown that it can’t stop Syria’s slide into civil war.

That leaves the U.N. mission of Kofi Annan, who appears determined to repeat every mistake the United Nations made in the Balkans when he was secretary general during the 1990s. He has persuaded the Security Council to send unarmed monitors to observe a cease-fire, when fire has not ceased; he has responded to lies and broken promises from Assad by renewing rather than abandoning his mediation.

A gloomy defeatism has infected European and Arab diplomats working on Syria. They shrug and say there are no solutions, that not much can be done to stop the fighting and that there’s no way to build an international consensus for stronger measures.

They say that — and then they speculate about when and whether the Obama administration might decide to abandon its passivity. The United States, after all, is more than capable of creating and defending a humanitarian zone in Syria, with help from Turkey and NATO. If it were to support the arming of the Free Syrian Army, there is little question that the army would soon have more weapons. Many in the Syrian opposition believe that merely the announcement of such U.S. initiatives would cause Assad’s regime to crumble from within.

What’s missing, of course, is a decision by President Obama to make that commitment. To do so, he would have to set aside the idea that any action must be authorized by the U.N. Security Council. He would have to forge an ad hoc coalition with Turkey and other NATO members, led by the United States. And he would have to order U.S. diplomats to work intensively with Syria’s opposition movements and ethnic communities to build an accord on a post-Assad order.

In other words, Obama would have to behave as if the United States were still what Bill Clinton understood it to be: the indispensable nation.

Source: Washington Post 
 
 
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A number of people have been killed inblasts in the north-western Syrian city of Idlib, activists and state TV say, BBC News reported.

TV reports said two suicide bombings had killed eight people, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 20 had died in attacks targeting the security forces.

The UN is currently deploying monitors to the country to oversee a fragile peace plan. Thirty will be in place soon but the UN warns it will need many more.

The Observatory said the Idlib bombs had exploded next to the Air Force Intelligence headquarters and the Military Intelligence building, with most of the casualties security personnel.

State TV said "two terrorist suicide bombs" in Hananu Square on Carlton Street had killed eight and wounded dozens - both civilians and security personnel.

One activist told Associated Press news agency the blast sites were several hundred metres apart and the bombs went off within five minutes of each other shortly after daybreak.

The Observatory also said there had been a powerful blast near the capital Damascus, causing casualties, but this has not been independently confirmed.

State TV also said there had been a rocket-propelled grenade attack by three men on the Syrian Central Bank in Damascus overnight, but again this has not been verified.


Source: Panarmenian 

 
 
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More than 20 people were killed Monday in blasts targeting security buildings in the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, a day after the head of a UN observer mission arrived in the crisis-hit country to encourage international peace efforts.

By News Wires (text) AFP - More than 20 people were killed on Monday in blasts targeting security buildings in the city of Idlib in northwest Syria, as an explosion was also reported in the capital, a monitoring group said.

The violence a day after the arrival of the chief of a United Nations monitoring mission was sure to put further strain on a UN-backed ceasefire that went into effect on April 12 but has failed to take hold fully.

Most of those killed in Idlib were members of the security forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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State television put the death toll at eight, among them civilians, and said scores of people were also wounded in the two blasts in Idlib's Hananu Square, on Carlton Street.

The channel said "terrorists" were behind the attacks, a term it uses to refer to rebels seeking to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

It showed footage of bloodstains on the ground, and groups of angry people denouncing the violence and expressing support for Assad.

"Is this the freedom they want?" shouted one man, standing near a woman who was carrying a child with blood running down his forehead.

An apartment block appeared to be in ruins and cars nearby were flattened by the force of the explosion.

A powerful blast, probably a car bomb, was also reported near Damascus, the Britain-based Observatory added.

"A strong explosion shook the suburbs of Qudsiya and it appears it was a car bomb," it said. "Initial reports indicate there are casualties."

Overnight, a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Central Bank in the capital, state media reported, after a suicide car bombing in the heart of the city on Friday killed 11 people.

Anti-regime activists have accused the government of being behind the series of explosions, while the authorities say "terrorists" are responsible.

"We confirm that these tricks no longer fool anyone, especially given the fact that the regime has resorted to these escalations every time there is political movement at the Arab, regional, or international level to find a political solution to the crisis in which the regime kills its people who are demanding freedom," said a statement by the Local Coordination Committees, a local network of activists.

Veteran peacekeeper Major General Robert Mood urged all sides to abide by the ceasefire as he arrived in Damascus on Sunday to take command of the UN military observer mission overseeing the truce.

The peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan calls for a commitment to stop all armed violence, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, media access to all areas affected by the fighting, an inclusive Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate and the release of detainees.

"To achieve the success of the Kofi Annan plan, I call on all sides to stop violence and help us continue the cessation of armed violence," Mood told reporters.

"We will work for the full implementation of the six-point Annan plan which the Syrian government agreed to.

"To achieve this, we now have 30 monitors on the ground, and in the coming days we will double this figure," he said, adding that the number would "rapidly" increase to 300.

Mood, a 54-year-old Norwegian who negotiated the conditions for the deployment of the advance team, was head of the UN Truce Supervision Organisation, which monitors Middle East truces, from 2009 until 2011.

He stressed the monitors need the cooperation of all parties to achieve their mission: "The observers can't solve all problems in and of themselves... All sides must stop violence and give the process a chance."

At least 70 people, among them 47 civilians, were killed nationwide at the weekend, monitors said.

A spokesman for the advance team of observers said they had set up base in major troublespots, including Idlib, central Homs and Daraa in the south.

With daily bloodshed adding to the death toll since the ceasefire, Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger said Annan's peace plan was "in danger."

"I place great hope in the six-point plan of Kofi Annan, which includes the UN mission tasked with monitoring the ceasefire," Kellenberger told Swiss weekly paper Der Sonntag.

"Unfortunately, I am also very aware that the plan is in danger."

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Assad's regime broke out in March last year.

The uprising started as a popular revolt but has since transformed into an insurgency.


Source: France 24

 


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