Sunday, January 21, 2018

Syria hot spots enjoy lull with UN monitors present

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The deployment of U.N. truce monitors brought a lull in shelling of the Syrian opposition stronghold of Homs for a second day Sunday, while President Bashar Assad's troops kept up heavy attacks on other areas where observers were not present.

International envoy Kofi Annan expressed hope that despite continued violations of the cease-fire he brokered, an expanded team of up to 300 observers — up from eight now on the ground — can help end 13 months of violence and lead to talks between Assad and the opposition.

Assad has used heavy weapons to try to crush the uprising against him, prompting some of his opponents to switch from peaceful protests to attacks on soldiers. The violence has left more than 9,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. At least 12 civilians and five soldiers were killed Sunday, activists and state media said.

The U.N. Security Council approved on Saturday a larger observer mission than the 250 initially envisioned. The mission was set for at least 90 days, but the council left it up to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to decide when it will be safe enough to deploy it.

It will be the first time the United Nations has sent an unarmed mission into a conflict zone, and Western diplomats warned the team will likely fail unless the Assad regime complies with the cease-fire.

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