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U.N. monitors in Syria witness attack by troops, activists say

Syrian government forces shot at protesters who swarmed around U.N. vehicles in Damascus, activists say.

April 18, 2012|By Los Angeles Times Staff
  • Amateur video reportedly showed shelling in Homs, Syria.
Amateur video reportedly showed shelling in Homs, Syria. (Shaam News Network )

BEIRUT — United Nations monitors in Syria on Wednesday witnessed government forces shooting at protesters in a suburb of Damascus, the capital, activists said.

At least 20 protesters were injured, four critically, and a U.N. vehicle was damaged during the incident in Arbeen, an activist group said.

Thousands of residents had surrounded U.N.-marked vehicles to speak with the monitors or to chant slogans critical of President Bashar Assad's government. But soon, activists said, regime forces began shooting at the protesters and throwing nail bombs.

Video showed some in the crowd carrying signs with messages such as "Watch closely … how Bashar is wiping out his people." A sign taped to a U.N. vehicle read, "The killer continues killing, the observers continue to observe and the people continue the revolution." Video also showed people fleeing gunfire.

The violence illustrated the daunting task faced by monitors and showed how shaky the cease-fire is between the Assad regime and rebels after more than a year of conflict. Since Thursday, when the cease-fire brokered by U.N. and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan went into effect, there have been reports of continued violence and the shelling of some cities, including the battered city of Homs.

Six U.N. monitors have been in Damascus since Monday and are expected to be joined by as many as 25 more as part of an advance monitoring mission. The Security Council planned to authorize a larger mission of 250, thoughU.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moonsaid Tuesday that may not be enough.

As the violence continues, more Syrians are expressing doubt in the possible success of the Annan peace plan.

In the northwestern province of Idlib, state media reported that six law enforcement officers were killed and 11 injured when a bomb went off on a country road. The bomb was planted by "an armed terrorist group" targeting law enforcement, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

Shelling continued in Homs and the nearby town of Qusair, where at least eight people were reported killed. In addition, tanks and busloads of pro-government forces drove into Qusair in the morning and began raiding homes.

"The regime troops in the town are still violating the truce by renewing the shelling and the raids," an activist said. "The truce lasted for one day.... Then it returned to what it was like before: shelling, raids and arrests. There is no change and the withdrawal was a lie from the army."

The future is uncertain, he said. "Maybe death, maybe victory."

At a news conference in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the peace plan would either succeed with the help of the monitors "or we see Assad squandering his last chance before additional measures have to be considered."

"We will judge the Assad regime by their actions, not by their words," she said.

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