UN approves Syria observer force
New York - The UN Security Council on Saturday voted unanimously in favour of a Western-drafted resolution to send observers to monitor a shaky truce in Syria, where the latest reports claim sporadic violence has killed 12 people.
Russia, a staunch ally of the regime of President Bashar Assad, which raised earlier reservations over the draft, backed the vote for the first ever resolution on Syria since the uprising against Assad broke out 13 months ago.
UN Resolution 2042 approved sending the first 30 unarmed military monitors, who are expected to leave within days. A new resolution with a full mandate will be required for the monitoring mission of more than 200 observers.
The resolution called on both sides to achieve a sustained halt "of armed violence in all its forms" and urged the Syrian government to "implement visibly" all commitments under special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan - including the withdrawal of all troops and heavy guns from Syrian cities.
It also called on Assad and the opposition "to guarantee the safety of the advance team without prejudice to its freedom of movement and access", stressing that "primary responsibility" for the observers' safety rests with the Syrian government.
Even as the vote took place, forces loyal to Assad killed four civilians when they opened fire on a funeral procession for a demonstrator in Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
State television aired footage of youths burning tyres and hurling stones in the Aleppo district of Izaa, and accused gunmen of fanning out in the area and opening fire at random.
Troops also shelled the Jurat al-Shayah and al-Qarabis districts of the central city of Homs, killing three civilians, the Observatory said.
Except for the old quarters in Homs, where dissidents remain active, regime forces control most of the city since they overran the rebel stronghold district of Baba Amr at the beginning of last month.
One civilian was also shot dead by soldier manning a checkpoint in Qalaat al-Madiq, in the central province in Hama, while a dissident policeman was killed in a raid by security forces in Jabal al-Zawiya, in the northern province of Idlib, the rights group said.
Farther south, in the town of Dmeir outside Damascus, security forces opened fire on a car, killing one civilian and wounding two, the watchdog said. Meanwhile, it added that two soldiers were killed in an attack on their car in the southern province of Daraa.
The death toll is far lower than the dozens of people killed on a daily basis before the ceasefire entered into force.
The latest deaths came after six civilians were killed on Friday as tens of thousands of people protested across Syria, heeding calls by the opposition to test the UN-backed truce that came into force at dawn on Thursday.
On Saturday, demonstrations were staged in several areas, according to videos posted on the internet by activists.
"Activate the revolution. It is ours. Syria is free," chanted hundreds of people in the village of Kfar Roma, in the northern province of Idlib.
'We shall not give up'
In Daraa province, the cradle of dissent against Assad's regime, hundreds turned out in the village of Inkhel.
"We shall not give up until the regime falls," they chanted.
The United States had called for a vote at the UN Security Council after a second day of wrangling with Russia over security guarantees for the first 30 unarmed military monitors UN-Arab League envoy Annan wants in Syria early next week.
Russia had opposed a council demand that Assad's regime carry out its promise to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities, which is part of the Annan peace deal.
The Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said earlier negotiations had been "rather difficult", but had insisted Russia wanted a vote that allows the Syrian ceasefire to be "reinforced".
Russia and China had vetoed two previous Security Council resolutions on Syria.
A new version of the resolution drafted by the United States with Britain and France was sent to other council members late on Friday for national governments to decide which way to vote.
Churkin said that "substantive changes" had been made to make it "more balanced".
Despite their past vetoes, Russia and China strongly supported Annan's six-point peace plan, and said they are putting increased pressure on Damascus.
The United States and European powers insisted there must be specific security guarantees and terms set out to the Syrian government before the advance team leaves.
Samir Nashar, a member of the umbrella opposition Syrian National Council hailed the effort to dispatch observers to Syria but cast doubt over the impact of just sending around 30.
"This is going to help reduce the number of killings, no doubt... but what could (just) 30 observers do in Syria," he told AFP.
The UN says more than 9 000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted in March last year, while monitors put the figure at over 10 000.