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Syria forces shell Homs as UN votes on observers

SYRIA: Syrian troops shelled rebel neighbourhoods of Homs on Saturday as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on a Western-drafted resolution that would dispatch observers to monitor a truce now in its third day.

By Agence France-Presse

Saturday 14 April 2012, 04:09PM

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shelled the Jurat al-Shayah and Al-Qarabis districts of the city for around an hour during the morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, without giving any immediate word on any casualties.

Further south, in the town of Dmeir, outside Damascus, security forces opened fire on a car, killing one civilian and wounding two, the Britain-based watchdog said.

The death came after six civilians were killed on Friday as tens of thousands marched across Syria, heeding calls by the opposition to take advantage of the UN-backed truce that went into force at dawn on Thursday.

The United States 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 who UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan wants in Syria early next week.

Russia also opposed the council demanding that Assad's regime carry out a promise to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities.

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was not "completely satisfied" with the talks held at the UN on Friday. Russia and China have vetoed two previous Security Council resolutions on Syria.

Negotiations had been "rather difficult," he said, while insisting that Russia wants a vote on Saturday that allows the Syrian ceasefire to be "reinforced."

Neither the United States nor its allies are certain that the resolution would escape a new veto.

"It would be wise not to make predictions," said US ambassador Susan Rice.

"There was a negotiation, there is not yet an agreement," France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters. "It's very tough, but there will be a vote tomorrow in any case."

A Security Council diplomat said: "A veto cannot be ruled out. It would be catastrophic for Syria if it happens."

A new version of the resolution drafted by the United States with Britain and France was sent to other council members late Friday for national governments to decide which way to vote.

Russia has also registered a shorter version of the draft for an eventual vote.

Both versions authorise the first 30 monitors in an observer force that would swell to more than 200 if the ceasefire firms up.

The UN says well over 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted in March last year.

Annan has asked for approval for the monitors and for the council to call for all six points of his peace plan to be carried out. The Syrian government has yet to pull troops and heavy weapons out of protest cities.

The text proposed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Morocco and Colombia demands "full, unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement" for the observers and that Assad "implement visibly" commitments made to Annan.

The council could also "consider further steps as appropriate".

Russia submitted a shorter version of the same text taking out the demand for "unimpeded" access for monitors and the warning of new measures. It also takes out a condemnation of human rights abuses in Syria.

A diplomat in the negotiations said Russia, the last major ally of Assad, had been "haggling over every phrase" in the draft text.

Churkin said Russia wanted a brief resolution to get "some boots on the ground" and then negotiate the mandate for the full mission.

Despite their past vetoes on Syria, Russia and China have given strong support to Annan's six-point peace plan and say they are putting increased pressure on Damascus.

The United States and European powers say however that there must be specific security guarantees and terms set out to the Syrian government before the advance team leaves.



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