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Syria, U.N. reach deal on monitors' access, safety

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticizes the government of President Bashar Assad for failing to uphold the cease-fire.

April 20, 2012|By Alexandra Sandels, Los Angeles Times
  • A man makes his way through debris in Homs after reported Syrian government shelling.
A man makes his way through debris in Homs after reported Syrian government… (Shaam News Network / AFP/Getty…)

BEIRUT — Syria and the United Nations reached a preliminary agreement Thursday on a monitoring mission to supervise a shaky cease-fire, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the government of President Bashar Assad for failing to uphold the truce.

"Despite the government's agreement to cease all violence, we still see deeply troubling evidence that it continues," Ban said at a news conference in New York.

Since the cease-fire began a week ago, government forces have continued to shell cities and towns and open fire on protesters, and some rebel groups are fighting back as an uprising that has racked Syria for 13 months showed no sign of ending.

The agreement, reached in Damascus, the capital, lays out the functions of the observer mission and the responsibility of the Syrian government, especially in ensuring the monitors' freedom of movement, unhindered access and safety.

But it was clear during Ban's news conference that some key issues hadn't been resolved, including the matter of transportation. The Syrian ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jaafari, assured Ban that the Assad government would provide helicopters and planes, but Ban said the issue would be "discussed more closely."

Ban this week raised the prospect of the United Nations providing its own air transport to ensure its ability to move freely.

The agreement comes before a vote by the U.N. Security Council to authorize the full monitoring mission, which Ban has recommended consist of 300 military observers supported by a civilian team.

"The situation remains highly precarious," he said.

At least 10,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the uprising. Ban said about 230,000 people had been displaced and that an estimated 1 million Syrians were in need of aid. Ban also criticized the Assad government on the humanitarian front, saying, "Despite assurances from the government, there has been no meaningful progress on the ground."

Meanwhile, the half a dozen monitors in Syria visited the southern province of Dara, where the revolution began in March 2011.

In the town of Herak, residents mobbed the observers' vehicles and chanted "Freedom" and "Go Assad, go." Minutes after the monitors left the town, activists reported, troops opened fire on the crowd, killing two people and injuring several. Nationwide at least 21 were reported killed.

The monitors have yet to visit the battered city of Homs, in central Syria, where shelling was reported again Thursday in several neighborhoods, as well as in the nearby town of Qusair. Video posted online showed large plumes of black smoke rising along the horizon.

An activist in Qusair said the situation was deteriorating rapidly there and that fighters with the rebel Free Syrian Army were attacking Assad's forces with light weapons.

"The situation is very bad," he said. "It's a ghost city here."

Sandels is a special correspondent.

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