Protests, suicide bombings threaten UN's Syria plan
Tens of thousands protested across Syria on Friday as a deadly suicide bombing rocked the capital, killing 11 people and fuelling growing scepticism over the prospects of a UN-backed peace plan.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three people, including a child, were killed as regime forces opened fire to disperse protests.
“Tens of thousands of people protested today in various areas of the country,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based group, told AFP.
He said one protester was killed in the village Daf al-Shok in Damascus province. Another died in the Sakhur district of northern Aleppo, Syria’s second city, and the child was killed in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.
Three members of the security forces and a deserter were also killed in other clashes across the country, the Syrian Observatory said.
At least 11 people died and 28 were wounded in the Damascus bomb blast which hit as worshippers were leaving weekly Muslim prayers at nearby Zein al-Abidin mosque in the central Midan district, state television said.
The report blamed “terrorists,” the term used by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to refer to the armed opposition, and said civilians and security force members were among the casualties.
Television footage broadcast gruesome images, including a severed hand and leg.
The official SANA news agency reported the interior ministry as saying “it will not tolerate the armed terrorist groups and vowed to strike with an iron fist those who are terrorising citizens.”
A separate blast hit an industrial zone of Damascus where there were no reports of casualties, but three security agents were wounded in an explosion in the coastal city of Banias, the Observatory said.
Assad’s regime has repeatedly blamed “armed terrorist groups” for the violence, and for failing to abide by a putative ceasefire that went into force on April 12.
But UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the regime was in contravention of a six-point peace deal by keeping troops and heavy weapons in urban areas, and expressed alarm about reports of population centres being shelled.
More than 9 000 people have died since a popular uprising erupted against Assad’s regime in March 2011, the UN says, while non-governmental groups put the figure at more than 11 100.
Opposition figure Walid al-Bunni said the accord drawn up by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was likely to fail because it obliges Syria to allow free demonstrations.
“If the Annan plan which provides for peaceful demonstrations is applied, millions of Syrians will take to the streets and the regime will fall,” he told AFP in Cairo.
Syria’s exiled Muslim Brotherhood urged Ban to acknowledge that Damascus had failed to honour the peace plan and to suspend its UN membership.
“We ask Ban Ki-moon to announce that Assad’s government has failed to honour the peace plan and to declare the plan finished… at a time when dozens of innocent people are dying,” the group said in a statement issued in Britain.
It also called for “the freezing of Syria’s membership in the international organisation, until a transitional government that represents the Syrian people’s will is established”.
Ban himself on Friday, during a visit to New Delhi, reiterated his alarm at the continuing violence in Syria on each day since the truce, saying it was a clear contravention of the government’s commitments under the Annan plan.
“The continued repression of the civilian population is totally unacceptable. It must stop immediately. The government of Syria must live up to its promises to the world,” he said.
The shaky truce is to be monitored by 300 UN observers due to arrive in Syria in the coming weeks. A small advance team is already on the ground, and the numbers will be doubled to 30 by month’s end, according to a UN official.
The UN on Friday appointed Norway’s Major General Robert Mood to head the monitoring force. Mood, 54, knows Damascus well and was there to negotiate conditions for the advance team.
Western nations have expressed strong doubts that the observers will be able to work, however, and the United States has already warned it may not renew the mission’s initial three-month mandate.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the Security Council must be ready to order sanctions if Syria flouts its commitments.
Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Italy that Syria was not respecting the Annan peace plan, but added: “We have no intention to intervene in Syria. We believe the right way forward is to ensure a political, peaceful solution.”
Meanwhile the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)‘s Syria Regional Refugee Response web page says there are 65 070 Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries—49 193 of whom have registered and 15 877 others who are waiting to do so.—Sapa-AFP