UN team ready for Syria deployment

Peacekeepers awaiting Security Council approval to oversee ceasefire that appears to have lasted into its second day.

    A United Nations team of 30 unarmed military observers is ready to deploy to Syria to begin a monitoring mission as soon as the Security Council approves its mission, which may be as soon as Friday, a spokesman for special envoy Kofi Annan has said.

    The team is "standing by" to begin overseeing a tenuous but apparently stable ceasefire, said Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for the joint UN-Arab League envoy.

    Protests in the wake of that ceasefire have broken out across the country, and government forces have responded by firing into the air, reportedly killing several protesters, activists claimed.

    UN peacekeepers

    Diplomats at the United Nations Security Council are debating a draft resolution that would established a preliminary, 30-strong unarmed military observer force in Syria aimed at implementing the ceasefire plan negotiated by envoy Kofi Annan. Read the draft here.

    Fawzi told Al Jazeera on Friday that scattered reports of violence in Syria did not mean the ceasefire was failing and called on both sides to exercise restraint.

    "With every cessation of hostilities there will be skirmishes, this is not unusual, sometimes the parties test each other," he said.

    "There may continue to be skirmishes for hours or even days, but the fact of the matter remains that heavy shelling ... has died down."

    The continued presence of government troops and armoured vehicles in cities and other civilian areas, a violation of one of the six key points in Annan's peace plan, was "extremely" concerning, Fawzi said, but more important was a halt to the killing.

    "The most important thing is that the guns remain silent," he said. "Wherever their positions, we hope they should and will remain silent."

    Protests to test ceasefire

    In what promised to be a test of the ceasefire, regular Friday demonstrations began across the country in the afternoon, and Syrian forces tightened security in public squares and outside mosques.

    At least one protester was killed when a demonstration tried to reach central Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Other activists said two people had been shot dead at an army checkpoint.

    Activist video posted on YouTube apparently showed protesters throwing rocks at security forces in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city, and gunfire could be heard.

    An activist in a town near the Turkish border told Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from Turkey, that pro-government armed groups known as shabiha had personally threatened to kill residents who protested on Friday.

    Burhan Ghalioun, the exiled head of the Syrian National Council, said on Thursday he did not trust the authorities who had their "hand on the trigger".

    "While we call on the Syrian people to protest strongly... we ask them to be cautious because the regime will not respect the ceasefire and will shoot."

    President Bashar al-Assad's regime has cracked down on such rallies in the past and suggested it would not allow them to resume on Friday, insisting protesters need to seek permission first.

    Heavy gunfire

    The worst reported violence since the ceasefire came into effect early on Thursday seemed to break out in the town of Khirbet al-Jouz, near the Turkish border, around midday, when residents reported two hours of sustained heavy gunfire.

    A rebel commander in the area told Al Jazeera that government tanks had opened fire to provide cover to soldiers who wanted to take down five rebel flags. The opposition fighters withdrew, having pledged to honour the ceasefire and not engage the government, he said.

    Syria's SANA state news agency on Thursday reported a bomb attack on a military bus in the northern city of Aleppo.

    "An armed terrorist group used an explosive device to target a bus transporting officers and non-commissioned officers to their unit in Aleppo," it said. "It killed a lieutenant colonel and wounded 24 other people."

    Colonel Kassem Saadeddine, a spokesman for the opposition Free Syrian Army, denied any involvement in the attack.

    Bashar Jaafari, Syria's UN ambassador, said Damascus already had complied with calls to withdraw troops from towns and called on its opponents to honour the ceasefire, saying there had been eight violations by armed groups on Thursday morning.

    South Africa's UN Ambassador Baso Sangqu said discussions on the text of a UN resolution authorising the deployment would begin on Thursday afternoon, and diplomats said it could be adopted as early as Friday.

    The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed since anti-government protests began in March, 2011. Authorities say about 2,500 security forces and police have been killed.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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