The United Nations special envoy to Syria has told the Security Council that the country is still experiencing unacceptable levels of violence, despite an April 12 ceasefire.
Kofi Annan, who was briefing the council via videolink from Sweden on Tuesday, said he was “particularly alarmed by reports that government troops entered Hama yesterday after observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people”.
“If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible,” Annan, who also represents the Arab League on the Syrian crisis, said. “Two observers have been stationed in Hama today.”
As violence flared in the Syrian capital of Damascus, Annan on Tuesday told the 15-nation body “we need eyes and ears on the ground, able to move freely and quickly” to watch over the ceasefire.
He made clear that Syrian forces had not withdrawn heavy weapons and returned to their barracks, as they are required to under a six-point peace plan he drew up.
“The situation in Syria continues to be unacceptable,” Annan said. “The Syria authorities must implement their commitments in full, and a cessation of violation in all its forms must be respected by all parties.”
‘Monitors brought death’
Manhal, an activist in Hama, told Al Jazeera that the visit of the observers to the central city’s neighbourhood of Arbaeen on Sunday was followed by a brutal crackdown by government forces the next morning.
“UN monitors brought death with them,” Manhal said. He said Arbaeen had seen large anti-government protests in the past. Asked whether there were opposition fighters in the area, he said: “There might be, but today’s shelling was targeted to kill, not to arrest.”
At least 50 people were killed in the city that day, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an opposition activist network.
On Tuesday, the LCC said that at least eight people were killed and dozens of others wounded in Douma, as government forces shelled the town on the same day as a visit from UN monitors. Activists reported that shelling resumed on Wednesday, though there was no immediate word on casualties.
Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for Annan, said the UN had received credible reports that “people who approach the observers may be approached by security forces or Syrian army and harassed or arrested or even worse, perhaps killed”.
Military officers killed
Meanwhile, three Syrian military officers were killed in Damascus on Tuesday, state media and opposition groups said, and at least three people were wounded in a car bomb blast in the capital.
SANA, the state news agency, said an “armed terrorist group” shot dead two army officers near Damascus, while the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a third was killed in the capital’s Barzeh neighbourhood.
Damascus residents said the explosion in a pickup truck directly outside an Iranian cultural centre, in a popular shopping district, was loud but caused limited damage. State TV said the bomb went off in the Marjeh area and that it was placed by an “armed terrorist group”.
Herve Ladsous, the UN’s under-secretary-general for peacekeeping, told the UN council that deployment of the monitors was moving slowly and that by the end of next month only 100 of the 300 approved monitors would be in place.
There are now 11 observers in Syria. Despite their sluggish rate of arrival, even a small number of observers can have an enormous impact on the conflict, Annan said.
“We have also seen events change – at least temporarily – in Homs, where violence has dropped significantly in response to the presence of a very small number of observers,” Annan said.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, told the council last week that observers would be placed in about 10 cities.
Annan also said he was worried about reports of fighting in areas where the advance team of monitors had not been present, including Idlib and Deraa.
Speaking after the UN under-secretary briefed the UN council, United States Ambassador Susan Rice said Ladsous told the panel that Damascus was putting restrictions on the deployment of monitors.
“Mr. Ladsous reported that the Syrian government has refused at least one observer based on his nationality, and that Syrian authorities have stated they will not accept UNSMIS [United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria] staff members from any nations that are members of the ‘Friends of Democratic Syria’,” Rice told reporters.
The 14-country group includes the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, all of which have said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost his legitimacy because of his 13-month assault on protesters.