Middle East News
UN team in Syria for talks amid violence
Apr 5, 2012, 15:18 GMT
Beirut - A United Nations advance team Thursday discussed with Syrian officials the deployment of peace observers, as activists reported fresh violence in several parts of the country.
'The team is already in Syria. They are the guests of the Syrian government. Their talks are being held at the Foreign Ministry,' UN spokesman in Syria Khaled al-Masri told dpa. He declined to give further details.
A UN source has said Major General Robert Mood from Norway, who has vast experience in peacekeeping missions, will be heading the observer mission once a ceasefire is in place.
'The focus of the UN team's talks is on the logistics, once a ceasefire is implemented, and where the monitors will be positioned,' a Western diplomat based in Beirut told dpa.
'There will be some 250-300 observers and the UN has already started to ask member states if they would like to send troops to participate in the mission,' the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The Syrian government has said it has accepted an April 10 ceasefire as part of a peace plan proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
The UN Security Council Thursday urged Syria to carry out the plan 'urgently and visibly.'
The plan calls on the Syrian government to pull back its troops and heavy weapons from civilian areas, and for all parties, including the opposition, to cease armed violence within 48 hours of this withdrawal.
It also calls for the release of detainees, access to humanitarian services, and talks between the Syrian government and opposition
Ahmed Fawzi, Anan's spokesman, said Thursday that Damascus had informed the UN that troops started to pull out of some areas.
Officials in the Syrian government 'told us they have begun withdrawing troops from certain areas,' Fawzi told dpa by phone.
'The clock starts on April 10 for both sides to cease all forms of violence,' he told a news briefing in Geneva on Thursday.
Syrian state media reported troop withdrawal from some areas in Daraa in the south, Idlib in the north, and Zabadani on the outskirts of Damascus. The opposition has called into question the reported pullback.
'What kind of a withdrawal is the regime talking about?' Waldi al- Buni, a Syrian opposition politician, said.
'Today there are military operations across Syria and more reinforcements on the ground,' he added.
At least eight Syrian soldiers were killed in fierce fighting with army defectors in the district of Deir Balaba in the volatile province of Homs, reported the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Seven civilians were killed Thursday in government shelling of the province, added the Britain-based group.
Activist near Damascus, meanwhile, told dpa that military troops had attacked the city's suburban area of Douma, in what was described as the worst assault on the area since an anti-government uprising started in March 2011.
'The regime is now focusing on Douma because they believe a number of the opposition Syrian Free Army are hiding inside the area and are planning for attacks inside the capital,' said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The observatory said troops had clashed with army defectors in the northern towns of Hraytan and Anadan near Syria's third largest city of Aleppo.
Three people were killed in the fighting, it added.
News from Syria is hard to verify as the government bars most foreign media from restive areas.
More than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict started, according to the UN.
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