Tuesday 17 April 2012

Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre: SUMMARY (17/04/2012): At least 66 martyrs have fallen today, the day Syrians mark our Independence from France. Most of them fell in Idlib where 8 people were executed and where the attacks by tanks and helicopters spread to several villages. Homs is also still under heavy shelling and mass arrests took place in Hama and Damascus countryside. The UN team went to Daraa today but we have no idea what they are supposed to do – there is clearly no longer a ceasefire for them to observe. Syria – Tuesday 17/04/2012 – Google Maps

NOW! Lebanon
[local time]  21:36 The United States said Tuesday that persistent violence in Syria was “unacceptable” and demanded that President Bashar al-Assad do more to comply with a peace plan to end months of bloodshed.
 21:07 Tuesday’s death toll in Syria rises to 77 people, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
 21:05 The European Union is ready to offer “any required support” to UN observers monitoring a ceasefire in Syria, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Tuesday.
 21:04 Syria is holding up an accord with an advance party of UN ceasefire monitors which threatens approval for the full mission, diplomats said Tuesday.
 20:41 Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said Tuesday that no progress has been made to end Syria’s deadly 13-month crisis.
 20:17 Seven corpses were found Tuesday in the Homs neighborhood of Al-Kassara, Al-Jazeera reported.
 20:06 France’s Alain Juppe plans to invite several of his fellow foreign ministers to talks in Paris on Thursday on ways to boost the pressure on Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, a government source said.
 18:53 Anti-regime activists in Syria on Tuesday advised fellow citizens to be well prepared and have their facts ready ahead of a visit by a UN team set to tour the country to monitor a fragile ceasefire.
 18:17 A group of 50 countries supporting sanctions against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime on Tuesday issued a statement denouncing continued arms sales to Damascus.
 18:05 UN observers convoy arrived in Daraa al-Mahatta accompanied by Syrian security forces, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying on Tuesday.
 18:02 Al-Arabiya on Tuesday broadcast images of an anti-regime demonstration in Daraa al-Balad in Syria.
 17:06 UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged Syria on Tuesday to provide free access countrywide to military observers monitoring a ceasefire and suggested EU air mobility for a future UN supervision mission.
 17:01 French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday that economic sanctions against Syria have stripped Bashar al-Assad’s regime of half of its financial reserves and should be stepped up.
 16:24 Syrian security forces killed 39 people Tuesday, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
 16:15 Two people were killed when Syrian security forces opened fire on a funeral procession in the Daraa town of Al-Hara, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying on Tuesday.
 15:03 Tuesday’s death toll in Syria rises to 22 people, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
 14:42 A top Jordanian Salafist leader said on Tuesday eight Sunni jihadists have been arrested as they tried to cross the border into neighboring Syria to fight President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
 14:20 Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem will pay a visit to China on Wednesday, Beijing announced, as more civilians were killed in fresh violence in the conflict-torn nation.
 12:39 Syrian security forces killed 15 people on Tuesday, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
 12:30 Advance team leader Colonel Ahmed Himmiche acknowledged on Tuesday that a hard-won UN military observer mission to oversee a Syria ceasefire will be “difficult.”
 12:05 Syrian regime forces killed at least two civilians on Tuesday, as they kept up their bombardments of protest centers despite a warning by Washington that it is already discussing options in case a UN-backed peace plan collapses.
 11:01 Russia on Tuesday called the ceasefire in Syria “fragile” and urged countries to put more pressure on the armed opposition to cooperate with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan.
 10:58 International peace mediator Kofi Annan is to go to Doha Tuesday for a ministerial meeting of the Arab League on Syria, his spokesperson said here.
 8:31 The Syrian army on Tuesday shelled the Homs neighborhoods of Al-Bayadah and Al-Khalidiya, Al-Jazeera television quoted activists as saying.
 8:30 MORNING LEADER: Syrian forces waged fierce gunfights Monday with rebels in one city and shelled another, as the UN chief urged “maximum restraint” after the arrival of observers to oversee a truce aimed at ending 13 months of bloodshed.
 8:10 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that the United States is “hoping for the best” but is discussing next steps with other powers if the ceasefire in Syria collapses.
 8:04 The Syrian forces on Tuesday shelled the Daraa town of Basr al-Harir, killing three people, Al-Jazeera television quoted activists as saying.

BBC: Syrian troops bombard rebel areas

Syrian security forces are carrying out deadly attacks on opposition-held areas in the north and south and continuing to bombard Homs, activists say.

Some opposition groups report that more than 50 people have been killed over the course of the day.

The violence came as envoy Kofi Annan travelled to Qatar to brief the Arab League on the peace plan he negotiated.

A handful of United Nations observers have made their first field trip to the south of the country to visit Deraa.

Earlier, the head of the advance team of UN observers admitted its ceasefire monitoring mission would be difficult.

“We need to move forward, little step by little step,” Col Ahmed Himmiche of Morocco told reporters in the capital, Damascus.

“It is not easy and it will require co-ordination with all sides, firstly with the Syrian government and then with the other sides. It’s a difficult mission that needs co-ordination and planning,” he added.

Col Himmiche arrived on Sunday to prepare for a 30-strong mission approved by the UN Security Council to check the implementation of Mr Annan’s peace plan, under which a ceasefire is supposed to have begun on Thursday.

There are outside forces that are not interested in the success of the current UN Security Council effort” Sergei LavrovRussian Foreign Minister

‘Flagrant violations’

As the Moroccan peacekeeper spoke, Syrian army tanks shelled the southern town of Basr al-Harir, killing at least two people and wounding dozens, activists said.

The town, about 70km (45 miles) south of Damascus, is reportedly a stronghold of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Adel al-Omari, an activist in the area, told the Associated Press that troops had been shelling Basr al-Harir and the nearby rural region of Lajat since midday on Monday. He said the shelling was intensifying and that many residents were fleeing to nearby villages or to Jordan.

In the northern province of Idlib, security forces fired mortars and machine guns in two villages.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an activist network, put the death toll in Idlib at 35. It said eight people had been executed in a field.

Government forces also continued to pound rebel-held districts of Homs, with the Syrian Observatory saying that mortar shells were landing at a rate of one a minute in Khaldiya and Bayada on Tuesday morning.

Homs has been under almost continuous attack since the ceasefire began and some activists are warning there may not be much left to see if the UN observers do not come soon, reports the BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut.

The military, tanks and heavy weapons were all supposed to have been withdrawn a week ago under Mr Annan’s peace plan.

The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) accused the government of “flagrant violations of the ceasefire” and called on the UN observers to “travel to Idlib and Homs immediately to see first-hand the massacres”.

But the government said that “armed terrorist groups” had escalated their attacks leaving the authorities with no choice but to respond.

‘Outside forces’

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said any ceasefire violation should be met with a swift and firm response by the UN Security Council.

Addressing an international conference on Syria in Paris, Mr Juppe also said that Western sanctions on the country were having an effect and that its foreign currency reserves had been halved. Syria’s foreign reserves were estimated at $17bn (£10.7bn) before the uprising began last year.

Oil production has also been reduced by 30%, costing the government about $520m a month in revenue, according to French diplomats.

Syria observer mission

  • UN Security Council resolution 2042 permits a team of up to 30 unarmed observers
  • An initial group of six monitors has arrived in Syria
  • The rest of the advance team is set to follow later
  • Once certain conditions are met, the UN will seek Security Council approval for an expanded force of about 250 observers
  • Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will set out concrete proposals by 18 April for this larger UN observer force

Mr Juppe said the Syrian government was actively trying to evade the sanctions, and called for a solid international response to such “manoeuvres”.

But Russia, which was instrumental in persuading the Syrian government to accept the Annan plan and the ceasefire, seems to be backing the government line in blaming the rebels, our correspondent says.

“There are outside forces that are not interested in the success of the current UN Security Council effort,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

“They are doing their best to influence the Syrian opposition not to co-operate with the government in maintaining the ceasefire and setting up a future dialogue,” he added.

The Arab League is meanwhile holding a ministerial meeting in Qatar, which Mr Annan is expected to attend to seek support for his plan.

However, the emir of Qatar, which has openly advocated arming the opposition, has given the initiative just a 3% chance of success.

“Earlier, we called for Arab military intervention to find a way out of the Syrian crisis, and spare the Syrian people further bloodshed. The appeals for help from a people oppressed and killed every day are met only with silence,” Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said on Monday.

The UN says about 9,000 people have died since pro-democracy protests began in March 2011. In February, the Syrian government put the death toll at 3,838 – 2,493 civilians and 1,345 security forces personnel.

There is growing evidence in Syria that the ceasefire, which started just five days ago, is failing to hold.

Anti-government activists have accused President Assad’s forces of carrying out attacks on opposition areas.

Syria restricts access for journalists, but the BBC’s Ian Pannell has been inside the country in Idlib province.

Video here

Ian Pannell, BBC News, Idlib

From early morning we heard the distinct sound of artillery rounds landing in the Jabel al-Zawiya hills in Idlib province. It is home to thousands of people living in countless villages and many of the men here are also rebel fighters.

The smoke from tank and artillery rounds could be seen rising in the distance. A military helicopter, armed with rockets circled the skies as we took cover and watched. Without time to pack up their belongings, families fled the area – afraid and angry.

The UN monitors have come to Syria to verify a ceasefire.

But the reality on the ground is that although government forces have withdrawn from many areas, attacks are ongoing. And without a real truce it is difficult to see how any kind of political process can begin.

REUTERS: U.N. sees need for more Syria observers, aircraft

A United Nations mission to oversee an end to violence in Syria may need to bring in its own aircraft and deploy more troops to ensure that a firm ceasefire takes hold throughout the country, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday.

A six-day-old truce has held in some parts of Syria since President Bashar al-Assad pledged to enforce it last week. But in strong opposition areas such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Deraa the army continues to attack and battle rebels, using heavy weapons in violation of the pledge by Damascus to pull back.

After negotiations led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan acting as envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, Assad’s government has agreed to allow a small U.N. force to monitor the ceasefire.

But the planned 250-strong mission is a fraction of the size of U.N. peacekeeping forces sent to other conflicts, raising doubt among Assad’s opponents about whether it can be effective or will serve as a figleaf substitute for more robust action.

Annan delivered a status report to Arab League ministers, who called on Assad to let the U.N. observers do their job.

“We fully support Mr Annan and his six-point plan, but sadly, the killing still goes on,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabr al-Thani told reporters after the meeting. “We are fearful that the regime is playing for time. We expressed this to Mr Annan.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban said the ceasefire was being “generally observed” although there was still violence. But the 250 observers would be “not enough considering the current situation and the vastness of the country”.

He said in Luxembourg that the U.N. was asking the European Union to provide helicopters and planes for the operation, which he would propose formally to the Security Council on Wednesday.

It was not clear whether Assad would agree to allow more U.N. troops and foreign aircraft into the country. A political source in neighboring Lebanon said Damascus had already refused the use of U.N. helicopters.

The protocol for the mission – which must have Syrian consent – is being worked out in Damascus by a team of U.N. peacekeeping officers.

Monitors also made an exploratory trip outside the capital.

“A group of international observers visited Deraa in the south of Syria today,” U.N. spokesman Khaled al-Masri said. “They met the governor and toured the city.”

Deraa is where the revolt against Assad began in March 2011. the city and surroundings have experience extreme violence.

The U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the “wisdom and the viability of sending in the full monitoring presence” of 250 would be in question if violence did not stop.

An Arab League monitoring mission was aborted in January after just a month in country because of daily shooting and shelling. But during its short life it emboldened Syrians to resume anti-Assad street protests – an effect the government will not want to see repeated.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, relaying reports from anti-Assad activists, said three people were killed and dozens wounded by shelling on Tuesday, two of them as troops sought to take control of Basr al-Harir in the southern province of Deraa. Activists say the town has been a rebel stronghold.

In the northern Idlib province, the army fired mortars and machine guns in two villages, killing four people. Army mortars pounded targets in the Khalidiya and Bayada districts of Homs, where the artillery assault resumed on Saturday two days after the truce came into force. Streets of Homs held by rebels earlier this year now resemble scenes from World War Two.

Assad, who agreed the peace plan with Annan more than three weeks ago, has not yet fulfilled its primary demand – that tanks, troops and big guns be withdrawn from populated areas and all forms of violence cease.

The Observatory said 23 people were killed on Monday, the first day of work for the U.N. advance team of six.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia say it is time to arm the Free Syrian Army with weapons to combat Syria’s powerful, Russian-armed forces. But other Arab League states say this would tip the crisis into all-out civil war threatening the wider region.

The West has shown no desire to intervene militarily or push for the sort of robust peacekeeping mission that would likely require at least 50,000 troops. Russia and China have made clear they would block a U.N. mandate to use force.


The small U.N. team, led by Moroccan colonel Ahmed Himmiche and including General Abhijit Guha, the Deputy Military Adviser in the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, is operating from an existing U.N. office in Damascus.

The Assad government says that – as with the Arab League operation – all of the unarmed U.N. mission’s “steps on the ground” must be coordinated with the state for its own safety.

Ban confirmed that he would ask for 250 monitors, despite believing that it was insufficient.

“That is what I am going to propose to the Security Council … there is always the question whether 250 is enough. I think it is not enough considering the current situation and the vastness of the country.”

“That is why we need very efficient mobility of our mission. That is what I have discussed with EU (leaders) yesterday … whether the EU could provide all these assets for mobility including helicopters and planes …,” Ban said.

Diplomats say Annan’s main aim is to get a U.N. mission on the ground backed by Syria’s supporters Russia and China, even if it is not big enough at first to do the job. Critics say Assad will simply play with U.N. politics to gain time.


Colonel Himmiche is the second U.N. peacekeeping officer to lead a team to Syria. Norwegian General Robert Mood took a team in on April 5 and returned to brief Annan on April 10. He has not appeared publicly since, leading to speculation that he was disassociating himself from a mission he could not endorse.

“The mystery of the missing mission chief” needs to be cleared up, the Beirut Daily Star said on Tuesday. If he was unwilling to lead a mission of limited reach and under Syrian control “it is crucial now for Mood to speak up”, it said.

A Western diplomat said Mood is still the leading candidate to become the head of the full mission when it is deployed. Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said Mood was a “good candidate” for the job but the decision had not been taken yet.

Syria blames a year of escalating violence on “terrorists” seeking to topple Assad. It restricts independent journalists’ access to the country, making it hard to verify reports.

The U.N. says Syrian forces have killed more than 9,000 people in the uprising. Syrian authorities say foreign-backed militants have killed more than 2,600 soldiers and police.

Annan’s plan calls for political dialogue to end the crisis.

“There are those who want Kofi Annan’s plan to fail,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said without naming anyone. “They are doing this by delivering arms to the Syrian opposition and stimulating the activity of rebels”.

Lavrov is critical of Western and Arab states backing the Syrian opposition-in-exile in the Friends of Syria group.

France said it would host a foreign ministers meeting of the group on Thursday in Paris, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to discuss the fragile ceasefire in Syria.

Western sanctions have halved Syria’s foreign reserves and should be stepped up to force Damascus to comply with the U.N.-backed peace plan, France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told officials from 57 countries meeting in Paris.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Arshad Mohammed in Brasilia, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Lou Charbonneau at the UN in New York, Rex Merrifield in Luxembourg.; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Peter Graff)

Guardian: Ambassadors’ wives urge Asma al-Assad to stand up for peace in Syria
Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, in  2008Wives of the British and German ambassadors to UN say Syrian first lady cannot hide behind her husband amid violence

Russia accuses ‘external forces’ of undermining Kofi Annan’s Syria plan: Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov’s remarks on Syria appear aimed at both western and Arab countries