Syrians rally against the regime in the city of Qamishli
Photograph by AFP/Getty Images.
UPDATE: Two suicide bombers blew up cars near a military compound and a hotel in northwest Syria on Monday, killing at least 9 people and wounding around 100 more, according to state-run media.
The Associated Press reports that the government says the attacks were perpetrated by "armed terrorists," a term that opposition leaders are sure to take issue with. Nonetheless, the violence is yet one more indication that the U.N.-brokered cease-fire in the country has failed to end the violence that has raged on for more than a year.
A spokesman from a prominent human rights group told Reuters that the bombs seemed to target intelligence services headquarters for the Syrian air force and the army. The rebels increasingly seem to be shifting from small-scale attacks to more intricate ones on government symbols and infrastructure.
The AP reports that there are 30 U.N. observers on the scene of the attacks, which left two crater-sized holes in the ground. Those observers make up a planned 300-member mission tasked with overseeing the supposed cease-fire.
The AP also notes that Monday’s bombings follow a string of recent suicide attacks in Syria. An al-Qaida-inspired Islamist group claimed responsibility on Monday for a suicide attack late last week that killed at least 10 people in Damascus, although the AP could not verify the authenticity of the statement made on the group’s website.
Thursday, April 26: A major explosion killed a large number of Syrian civilians on Thursday, although, as has become commonplace, the government and opposition are offering greatly varying accounts of both how it happened and how many died.
Regardless, the casualties are the latest sign that a U.N.-brokered ceasefire has done little to stop the violence and is in danger of collapsing outright.
The New York Times reports that opposition forces say that roughly 70 civilians died after the Assad regime shelled a row of cinder-block shanties in a poor neighborhood in Hama. The government, however, claims that the blast was the result of a bomb-making operation by rebels gone wrong, and that the death toll was only 16.
Neither account has been independently confirmed. A large part of the reason for that, as the Associated Press explains, is because the Syrian government has severely restricted media access during the bloody uprising and government crackdown that has now lasted more than a year.
An opposition group told CNN that Syrian security forces also fired on a demonstration that was mourning the deaths. In the a wake of the explosion, opposition leaders have called on the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency session on the protection of civilians.
Meanwhile, the U.N. has announced that it might take more than a month to get their Kofi Annan-sponsored 300-person observer mission on the ground due to logistical difficulties, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Fifteen monitors are reportedly in Syria at the moment.
Saturday, April 21: The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to approve a measure that allows the ongoing mission in Syria to grow by up to 300 unarmed military observers for three months as well as an unspecified number of civilian specialists, reports the Washington Post. The monitors, who will form part of what is officially known as the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, will join the small team that is already in the country.
The vote at the United Nations came hours after a small group of five U.N. observers visited the opposition stronghold of Homs, where activists said it was the first time in weeks there was no gunfire or shelling, reports Reuters. Homs residents surrounded the monitors when they arrived, asking for foreign military help, reports the Associated Press. Activists say monitors did not get a proper feel for what life is like inside the hard-hit city because the government hid its presence before the observers arrived, reports CNN.
Although the Syrian regime has continued its offensive despite the cease-fire, the violence has been on a smaller scale. The cease-fire is far from perfect, but the international community sees the peace plan as the only real option for Syria. Still, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice made it clear that “our patience is exhausted,” reports Reuters. Rice said the United States would not support renewing the observer mission if Syria failed to implement the peace plan devised by U.N./Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Friday, April 20: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that she wants U.N. Security Council to adopt an arms embargo and other measures against Syria in the wake of the country's only partial enforcement of a cease-fire, the Associated Press reports.
During a Paris meeting between western and Arab diplomats, Clinton asked for "travel, financial sanctions, an arms embargo, and the pressure that that will give us on the regime to push for compliance with Kofi Annan's six-point plan." Both France and Syrian opposition leaders immediately welcomed her request and vowed to support it.
The call comes as the council prepares to vote on an increase in monitors to the country.
As Reuters explains, Annan and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are urging the U.N. to approve the deployment of 300 observers to Syria—50 more than the plans originally called for—in the next few days. Currently, a small team of seven observers are in the country, with the full advance team of 30 due to start working in the country by sometime next week.
The monitors will be deployed to Syria to observe enforcement of the fragile cease-fire and six-point peace plan that is seen as one of the last diplomatic hopes to end violence in the country. Syrian forces continued to shell the city of Homs Friday despite the cease fire.
Thursday, April 19: Syria and the U.N. have reached an agreement on the protocol for observer deployment to monitor the country's cease-fire, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced Thursday.
The BBC explains that the the deal covers both the functions of observers in the country, and the responsibilities of the Syrian government. The U.N. Security Council will meet Thursday morning to hear details of the agreement and of the cease-fire thus far.
Currently, a handful of observers are already in the country, with more on the way. The Security Council will decide whether they plan on sending an even larger observing mission to Syria. While original plans called for an eventual 250 observers, Ban Ki-Moon asked for that number to be expanded to 300 in the wake of apparent violations of the cease-fire, Reuters reports.
Wednesday, April 18: The Syrian foreign minister has challenged U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's call for more cease-fire monitors in the country on Wednesday, saying the initially planned 250 is enough.
Meanwhile, the Syrian army continues to shell opposition-heavy regions seven days into a cease-fire brokered by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan.
Reuters reports that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, speaking from Beijing, told reporters that the 250 U.N. monitors should come from "neutral" countries who have been relatively friendly to the Assad regime: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, for instance.
At least 10 were killed in fighting in Homs Wednesday the Associated Press reports, as violations of the week-old cease-fire grow more brazen. But the international community has not yet declared the deal, which both sides are ignoring in many regions, dead. The cease-fire plan is seen as a last diplomatic resort to ending nearly 13 months of violence in Syria.
Tuesday, April 17: A U.N.-brokered cease-fire that, in theory at least, began last week appears to be breaking down in Syria as government forces renewed attacks across the country on Tuesday.
CNN reports at least 19 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday during the latest violence, according to a tally from a human rights group. The BBC reports that two of the casualties occurred in the southern town of Basr al-Harir and three in the northern province of Idlib. Syrian forces have also reportedly renewed attacks on the beleaguered rebel holdout of Homs.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., denounced President Assad late Monday in light of the recent outbreak of violence. "They have lied to the international community, lied to their own people," she said. "And the biggest fabricator of the facts is Assad himself. His representatives are merely doing his bidding and under probably some not insignificant personal duress."
Meanwhile, Reuters reports Tuesday that Western sanctions on Syria have cost Assad’s government roughly $520 million a month in revenue, according to French diplomatic sources. Before E.U. sanctions were put in place, Syria sold 90 percent of its oil to Europe, but that market has now fallen 30 percent.
Monday, April 16: The first U.N. observers arrived in Syria on Monday, following fresh shelling in Homs over the weekend that has cast further doubt on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's commitment to the four-day-old cease-fire currently in effect.
Reuters reports that the cease-fire, brokered by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan as part of a six-point peace plan to end 13 months of violence, has dramatically reduced reports of deaths in the country, but reports of attacks and violence persist.
The Associated Press reports the U.N. advance team of six unarmed observers that arrived Monday is tasked with negotiating the terms of access and freedom of movement for the mission. The peacekeeping effort will soon grow to include another two dozen observers (also unarmed), and the U.N. is expected to send a monitoring team of about 250 to the country pending another Security Council resolution, which could occur by the end of this week.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday advised Syrian leaders to allow the observers to do their jobs. "It is the Syrian government's responsibility to guarantee freedom of access, freedom of movement within the country," he said.
Sunday, April 15: Hours before the first U.N. observers were set to arrive in Syria, government forces shelled the opposition stronghold of Homs and activists said at least three people were killed, reports the Associated Press. Six observers are scheduled to land in Syria Sunday night and “will be quickly augmented by up to 25 to 30 from the region and elsewhere,” according to a spokesman for U.N./Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
In another sign of how the shaky truce in Syria is in serious risk of collapse, the government vowed that it would stop “terrorist groups” from continuing to carry out criminal acts, reports Reuters.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague made it clear that 30 observers are nowhere near enough to monitor what is going on in the whole country. But he also said that the plan was “better than any alternative scenario at the moment which involves death and violence,” reports the BBC.
Saturday, April 14: The U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to deploy a first wave of observers to monitor the cease fire between Syrian troops and opposition fighters. Saturday’s vote marks the first time the Security Council diplomats all agreed on a Syria-related resolution since fighting began 13 months ago, notes Reuters.
Although Russia, a Syria ally, voted in favor of the resolution after some changes were made to the document, the country’s ambassador also made it clear Moscow respects Syria's sovereignty. Although violence has been reported in a number of Syrian cities that has left at least six dead, the New York Times says the cease fire appears to be holding for now. The BBC is less optimistic and says the cease fire is in danger of collapsing.
The resolution explicitly calls on the Syrian government to implement the six-point peace plan written up by U.N./Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. Security Council diplomats have said they intend to increase the number of observers to 250, as Annan had asked for, but that would require a separate resolution, points out the Associated Press.
Annan’s spokesman said Friday that an advance team of “around 10 or 12” monitors was “standing by to board planes and get themselves on the ground as soon as possible,” reports Al Jazeera.
Friday, April 13: Opposition activists tested the fragile Syrian ceasefire Friday by holding mass protests after midday prayers. While the cease fire appears to be holding in most of the country, there were a few reports of violence, including heavy gunfire near the country's Turkish border.
Reuters reports that fighting broke out in the northwestern province of Idlib after troops attempted to clear rebels from the area. The cease fire has been effect since dawn on Thursday.
While the country has been relatively quiet since then, the Syrian government remains under pressure to withdraw troops from populated areas, a part of Kofi Annan's peace plan for the country that was supposed to take effect 48 hours before the cease fire.
According to the New York Times, the U.N. has observers standing by to enter the country should the cease fire hold, pending a vote by the U.N. Security Council later Friday.
Thursday, April 12: The cease fire that went into effect across Syria at dawn has been "partially observed," the Syrian National Council told Reuters Thursday.
One major part of Kofi Annan's peace plan for the country has not been met, however: a troop pullback. CNN reports that Syrian troops more or less remain in place in the country's populated areas. Syrian troops were supposed to withdraw 48 hours before Thursday's cease fire.
There were reports of a few shellings in the minutes after the cease fire went into effect, including a few deaths, as the Guardian notes. But overall, the country's mood Thursday is an uneasy quiet.
That may change Friday, when a planned protest after midday prayers tests the Syrian government's commitment to the cease fire, as Reuters explains.
Wednesday, April 11: U.N. envoy Kofi Annan is attempting to salvage his peace plan for Syria by calling on the government to withdraw troops and obey a cease fire by April 12, the Guardian reports.
Annan, currently in Iran to enlist their help in ending Syrian violence, said Wednesday that he has received "assurances" from Syria that it would respect the cease fire.
Originally, the Assad regime had agreed to withdraw its troops from populated areas by April 10, in order to ensure that both government forces and opposition fighters would obey a cease fire 48 hours later, but that first deadline has since passed with little end to violence in sight.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken diplomatic aim at Russia's refusal to support U.N. action in Syria. According to the Associated Press, Clinton will try to convince Russia at Wednesday's G-8 meeting in Washington to support U.N. efforts to at least allow humanitarian aid in Syria. Russia's refusal to do so "is keeping [President] Assad in power, well-armed, able to ignore the demands of his own people, the region and the world," she said.
Tuesday, April 10: Kofi Annan's April 10 deadline for Syrian troop withdrawal has arrived, and it looks like a cease-fire, slated for 48 hours after the troop withdrawal, won't be on the table anytime soon.
More than 1,000 have died in Syria over the past eight days, the Syrian National Council (the main opposition group) said Tuesday. According to the Associated Press, SNC spokesperson Bassma Kodmani said the situation in Syria is "dramatically deteriorating" as Syrian troops have intensified their pursuit of opposition forces in the country in the lead-up to the cease-fire deadline.
CNN reports that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, currently in Moscow, said that the country has withdrawn troops from some provinces. Moallem blamed opposition groups for the intense violence still being reported in the country.
Over the weekend, the Syrian government demanded extra conditions be met before it would abide by a previously agreed-upon cease-fire, brokered by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan. Those demands included a written agreement from the opposition that they would stop fighting, which the Free Syrian Army quickly rejected. That, combined with the intensifying violence over the past week, has all but dashed hopes for Annan's peace plan.
On Tuesday, Syrian forces bombarded two cities, including Homs, Reuters reports.
Both Russia and China—who have used their U.N. Security Council vetoes to block punitive action against Syria—have urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to obey the conditions of the cease-fire.
Monday, April 9: After the peace plan for Syria just about collapsed over the weekend, Syrian forces fired across the Turkish border Monday, wounding at least five people in a refugee camp.
The Associated Press reports that the Syrian soldiers were apparently firing at fleeing rebels who had just attacked a military checkpoint, killing six soldiers. Syrian activists say two were killed at the refugee camp, but that hasn't been confirmed.
The incident follows a bloody weekend that will likely mark the collapse of U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan for the country. The plan called for Syria to withdraw troops from populated areas by April 10, with a cease-fire between Syrian forces and opposition fighters to follow 48 hours later.
On Saturday, as many as 160 were killed in Syria, one of the bloodiest days in the yearlong unrest in the country. And on Sunday, the Syrian government made an eleventh hour demand that all but ensures the deal is off: President Bashar al-Assad's regime wants a written guarantee from the opposition that it will stop fighting, a demand that the Free Syrian Army quickly rejected.
Following the Assad regime's demand, Turkey's Deputy Foreign Minister Naci called the peace plan "effectively void," adding that after Annan visits a refugee camp in Turkey Tuesday (on his way to Iran), a "new stage will start," in brokering peace for the region, as Reuters reports.