A year on, Syrians are remembering the sit-in in Homs’ New Clock Square and the ensuing crackdown that left several dead.
Syria’s foreign minister has pledged to respect UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan and to co-operate with a UN team sent to monitor a fragile ceasefire between government forces and opposition fighters.
Walid al-Muallem’s comments, made as he met his Chinese counterpart in Beijing on Wednesday, came as both the opposition and authorities reported violations of the truce.
“Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem… said Syria would continue to… respect and implement Annan’s ‘six-point proposal’,” China’s foreign ministry quoted Muallem as telling Yang Jiechi.
Muallem also said Damascus remained committed to implementing a ceasefire, withdrawing troops and co-operating with UN observers, the statement added.
He said in a news conference that UN plans to deploy 250 monitors on the ground in Syria were “reasonable and logical”.
So far, only a handful of advance monitors have arrived in the country.
Muallem is on a short visit to China to brief Beijing on his nation’s latest efforts to implement Annan’s peace proposal, which came into force last week and includes a full ceasefire and withdrawal of troops.
The observer team travelled to Arbeen at the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday, escorted by police.
Their cars were surrounded by demonstrators waving flags and a banner reading: “The butcher continues killings, the observers continue observing, and the people continue with their revolution. We only bow to God” was plastered on the rear of one of the UN cars.
Activists said shooting broke out during the monitors’ visit, but it was not clear whether the observers witnessed the incident.
They made a trip south to the city of Deraa on Tuesday, apparently without incident.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, said the final logistical details regarding the UN monitors in Syria have yet to be finalised.
“Issues that need to be addressed include how much access will the monitors have, how much freedom of movement do they have, how much control will the government have over them?” she said.
“It is going to be very hard for them to venture into very fragile areas where the army and armed groups are shooting at each other, without risking their safety.”
‘Security forces killed’
Both the opposition and state media reported fresh violence on Wednesday.
SANA state news agency blamed “terrorists” for a blast in the northern Idlib province which it said killed six members of the security forces.
It also said a policeman had been killed by a sniper in the southern Deraa province and that a lieutenant colonel had been shot dead in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
Meanwhile, government forces shelled four rebel districts of Homs: Juret al-Shayah, al-Qarabis, al-Khaldiyeh and al-Bayada, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
They are among a string of neighbourhoods of Syria’s third largest city that remain outside security force control despite a massive assault on its Bab Amr district that saw hundreds killed, including Western journalists, before troops moved in on March 1.
Idlib, the main city in the province with the same name, has reportedly also been shelled in recent days, as the army tries to rid the area of opposition fighters. Activists say many people have been killed, but witness accounts are difficult to verify since most international media has been barred from entering Syria.
‘The killing still goes on’
On Tuesday, Arab League ministers called on Damascus to stick to Annan’s six-point plan.
“We fully support Mr Annan and his six-point plan, but sadly, the killing still goes on,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, told reporters after the meeting in Doha on Tuesday.
“We are fearful that the regime is playing for time. We expressed this to Mr Annan.”
Nabil al-Araby, the Arab League secretary-general, called for the ceasefire to be implemented “completely and immediately”.
“Annan’s mission is a political one which would take some time,” he said.
The Arab ministerial committee, chaired by Qatar, includes Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, and Kuwait.
On Monday, Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, said the chances of Annan’s plan succeeding were “no higher than three per cent” and that Syrians should not be supported through peaceful means but “with arms”.
Qatar has taken a hard stance in favour of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Hopes for the observation mission have been tempered by the failure of the earlier Arab League mission which was hampered by government restrictions on movement, and UN chief Ban Ki-moon has demanded his monitors be given free access.
Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao, reporting from outside the meeting in Doha, said Arab leaders were “highly sceptical about Syria’s intentions”.
“The Arab League did not say exactly how much time they would give Kofi Annan … before they basically rule this peace plan a failure,” Chao said.
“They pointed to the fact that so far, five days into this ceasefire, Syria has yet to implement any of the six points Kofi Annan has laid out.”