UN to expand Syria observer mission
Reports of 2 explosions, including blast near Damascus
The United Nations Security Council has voted to expand its ceasefire observer mission to Syria and is also demanding an immediate halt to the violence.
Up to 300 unarmed military personnel could be sent in as monitors. Currently there are eight UN observers in Syria. Two more were to arrive by Monday as the UN continues to build a 30-member advance team to oversee the ceasefire agreement, which has failed to stop the bloodshed.
CBC Reporter Melissa Kent said the new resolution was greatly "diluted."
"Gone is the condition that observers would be sent once the tanks and troops are pulled," Kent said from the UN in New York City. "This text called on Damascus to implement the pull-back but it leaves it up to [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-Moon to decide whether or not it is safe to send in the observers."
Unlike most resolutions that call for reports to the Security Council in 30 days, the resolution adopted Saturday calls for reports every 15 days from the secretary general.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, in the toughest speech of the session, warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that if Syria doesn't implement all its commitments or obstructs the work of the monitors, the U.S. would pursue other "measures," which in diplomatic language usually means sanctions.
"Let there be no doubt, we, our allies and others in this body are planning and preparing for those actions that will be required of all of us if the Assad regime persists in the slaughter of the Syrian people," she said, adding that the U.S. will not wait 90 days to take these measures if Syria keeps flouting its obligations.
Monitors say more than 200 people have been killed since the ceasefire was announced April 12 and there are reports of more violence apparently tied to the 13-month uprising against the Assad regime.
Also on Saturday, both Reuters and Al Jazeera reported explosions near the Mezze military airport outside of Damascus. Gunfire could be heard in the vicinity soon after the blast, and the road leading to and from the airport has been closed.
Meanwhile, the state news agency said that an "armed terrorist" group blew up an oil pipeline in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, near the border with Iraq.
Russia, EU distribute rival draft resolutions
Prior to the vote on Saturday morning, the UN debate has focused on two draft resolutions, one from Russia and the other circulated by France on behalf of the European Union, both calling for more ceasefire monitors. The two resolutions disagree, however, on possible sanctions and transportation for the larger observer force.
The resolution merges rival Russian and European texts and drops a European threat of non-military sanctions if Syria fails to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities.
The European draft had called for economic sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans if the Syrian regime fails to comply with the ceasefire agreement.
The Russian draft made no mention of such measures. Instead, the Russians say those responsible for human rights abuses on either side of the conflict should be "held accountable."
The use of helicopters and aircraft by the UN mission will likely dominate discussions in the coming days.
The initial Russian draft resolution made no mention of helicopters but the European version underlined the need for the Syrian government "to agree rapidly" with the UN on "the independent use of air assets" by the expanded force.
The final text underlines "the need for the Syrian government and the United Nations to agree rapidly on appropriate air transportation assets."
SANA said UN observers visited the central city of Homs and met with the district's governor on Saturday. Two observers stayed behind in Homs to keep monitoring the city, after the rest of the team left Saturday evening.
Activists reported that shelling by government forces stopped in Homs in advance of the visit.
In the Jouret el-Shayah neighbourhood, the observers were quickly thronged by residents who chanted, "The people want military intervention," according to video broadcast on Al Jazeera. Video from the same neighbourhood, posted online Saturday, showed observers walking silently through rubble-strewn deserted streets lined by heavily damaged apartment buildings.
A man in military uniform, apparently a rebel, pointed to the destruction, telling the team that "it's all destroyed buildings." Dozens of residents chanted, "The people want to execute the president," and "Freedom forever, against your will, Assad."
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the first time in more than a week that there has been a lull in the violence in Homs.
Salim Qabani, an activist based in Homs, said that troops were hiding armoured vehicles. He said tanks were pulled off the streets and into a police base.
A previous observer team, dispatched to Syria by the Arab League at the start of the year, withdrew after a month, unable to halt the fighting.
With files from The Associated Press