Syria and the United Nations have signed a deal on the framework for international observers to monitor the nation’s shaky ceasefire between government forces and opposition fighters.
The agreement on Thursday came as Arab and Western ministers gathered in Paris to increase pressure on Damascus, and while violence continued across Syria, with activists reporting the deaths of at least nine people.
The Syrian foreign ministry said “this agreement comes within the framework of Syrian efforts aimed at making the [UN-Arab envoy Kofi] Annan plan succeed and to facilitate the UN observer mission while respecting Syria’s sovereignty”.
Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesman for Annan, who drafted the six-point peace plan, confirmed in Geneva that a deal on the framework to deploy monitors had been reached.
“This agreement outlines the functions of the observers as they fulfill their mandate in Syria and the tasks and responsibilities of the Syrian government in this regard,” Fawzi said.
He added that discussions had begun with members of the Syrian opposition to ensure they would also comply with the ceasefire.
“The hard part lies ahead, a truly Syrian-led and -owned political dialogue to address the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said.
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said the Paris meeting, attended by 14 ministers, would send a “strong” call to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to abide by the peace plan brokered by Annan.
But Syrian ally Russia said it was staying away because the talks were only aimed at isolating the regime and would hurt the chances of direct peace talks.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, has said he wants 300 unarmed observers sent on a three-month mission. He has also insisted that the Assad’s regime adhere to the peace plan.
The 300 observers would be deployed over several weeks and go to an estimated 10 regions of Syria.
Their job will be to monitor the fragile cessation of hostilities that began on April 12 and the implementation of the Annan plan, to which Syria has committed itself.
Ban said the proposed mission would “greatly contribute to observing and upholding the commitment of the parties to a cessation of armed violence in all its forms”.
Diplomats said a resolution allowing the full observer mission could be ready early next week if there was agreement by the UN Security Council.
The latest diplomatic development came as an opposition activist network on Thursday reported the deaths of three people in the central city of Homs as troops shelled rebel-held areas in the central city and the nearby town of al-Qusair.
The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC) also said that three people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Yabroud amid heavy gunfire by government forces.
In Deir Ezzor, both the LCC and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the death of one person in clashes between troops and army defectors..
Thursday’s clashes in the eastern city have reportedly left three others wounded.
At least two more people were killed in the northwestern province of Idlib, the LCC reported.
The UN says well over 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against Assad broke out in March 2011.
Activists says scores have died since the ceasefire started.
Ban said violence had “dropped markedly” when the ceasefire began, but that Syria had “yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks”.
“Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days, with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces,” he said.
At the moment there are six observers in Syria, led by a Moroccan colonel. The full mission would be led by an officer of at least the rank of major general.
Ban said the team has so far been refused permission to go to Homs, with Syrian officials claiming “security concerns”.
The mission went to Deraa, the revolt’s epicentre, on Tuesday, where “it enjoyed freedom of movement” and “observed no armed violence or heavy weapons”.
But Ban confirmed violent incidents when the UN observers went to Arbeen, in the Damascus suburbs, on Wednesday.
“A crowd that was part of an opposition demonstration forced United Nations vehicles to a checkpoint. Subsequently, the crowd was dispersed by firing projectiles,” said the report.
“Those responsible for the firing could not be ascertained by the United Nations military observers.”
One UN vehicle was slightly damaged, but no injuries were observed by the team.
Ban said the new mission, to be known as the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) would include political, human rights, civil affairs, public information, public security, gender and other advisers.
He added that the mission would not carry out humanitarian assistance duties.