DARAA, Syria – A roadside bomb hit a Syrian military truck Wednesday just secondsafter the head of the U.N. observer team drove by in a convoy,demonstrating the fragility of the international plan to end thecountry's bloodshed. In Washington, meanwhile, President Barack Obama took steps toextend sanctions against the government of President Bashar Assad,saying Syria poses an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to U.S.national security and diplomatic goals. The attack, which the regime said wounded 10 Syrian soldiers,emphasized the limits of the international community's plan to useunarmed observers to promote a cease-fire between government troopsand rebels trying to topple Assad. The team of 70 U.N. |
military observers now in Syria should grow tomore than 100 in the coming days. It is unclear when the full teamof 300 will arrive. They are to oversee a U.N.-brokered cease-firethat was intended to allow for talks on a political solution to theconflict but began unraveling shortly after it was due to takeeffect on April 12. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the attack, saying thecontinuing violence undermines the plan, which is "possibly theonly remaining chance to stabilize the country and avert a civilwar." The peace plan has been troubled from the start, with governmenttroops shelling opposition areas and rebels attacking militaryconvoys and checkpoints despite the cease-fire.
Many civilians have grown critical of the plan, saying it does notprotect them from regime forces. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the roadsideblast that hit troops escorting the U.N. monitors was "furtherevidence that the cease-fire is not holding." Although the daily death toll has dropped in recent days,international envoy Kofi Annan said Tuesday that the level ofviolence is unacceptable and that the plan's failure could lead tocivil war. Wednesday's blast, witnessed by an Associated Press reporter whowas traveling with the United Nations, provided a close-up exampleof the attacks on security forces that have become almost dailyevents.
The bomb went off as Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the Norwegian head ofthe U.N. observer team, rode in a clearly marked armored white LandCruiser from the capital, Damascus, to the southern city of Daraa,where Syria's uprising began. The explosion, which occurred at about 11:20 a.m.
after the convoyhad passed a military checkpoint, shattered the windows of theSyrian military truck and sent up a cloud of smoke and red sand.The truck sped into the city, where several bloodied soldiers wererushed to a hospital. Speaking to reporters later, Mood said it was unclear whom the bombwas targeting. "For me the important thing is really not speculating about who wasthe target, what was the target, but it is to make the point thatthis is what the Syrian people (are) seeing every day and it needsto stop," he said. "Whoever is doing it and whoever is supportingit." No one claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The regime blamessuch attacks on terrorists it says are stoking the anti-Assaduprising. An exiled rebel leader, Col. Riad al-Asaad, warned that armedgroups in the country would resume attacks because the governmenthad flouted the cease-fire, the London-based Asharq al-Awsatnewspaper reported Wednesday. Al-Asaad told the paper that "ourpeople are demanding that we defend them. The streets of Daraa were crowded on Wednesday and stores wereopen, but the city felt tense amid heavy security, with soldiersdeployed everywhere and at least three checkpoints leading to thecity center.
Long lines of drivers waited to have their IDs checkedor cars searched. Dozens of soldiers stood outside the hotel where some observershave been stationed, keeping a close eye on nearby buildings. Activists said regime forces fired a mortar shell at the home of anactivist in Daraa soon after he met with U.N. observers there onWednesday, injuring 10 people.
"Each time they come, there is an attack," activist Karam al-Haririsaid by phone. Another activist, Mohammed Abu Hawran, said the observers returnedafter the attack to take pictures and check on the wounded. An amateur video posted online showed the tail of an explodedmortar shell on a street with blood spattered on a nearby wall andsidewalk. Activist claims and videos could not be independentlyverified.
Syria's conflict started in March 2011 with mass protests callingfor political reform. The government swiftly cracked down,dispatching tanks, troops, snipers and pro-government thugs toquash dissent, and many members of the opposition took up arms todefend themselves and attack government troops. Many soldiers alsoswitched sides. The U.N said weeks ago that more than 9,000 people had been killed.Hundreds more have died since. International diplomacy has failed to stop the violence, and theU.N.
has ruled out military intervention of the type that helpedbring down Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, in part out of fear that itcould exacerbate the violence. On Wednesday, Obama notified Congress that he is extending a"national emergency" that allows the president to impose a varietyof punishments and controls against Syria. The renewal came twodays before the state of emergency was set to expire. An amateur video posted online Wednesday showed a U.N. observertelling a resident in the town of Talbiseh that the team had cometo investigate a recent attack and file a report.
The resident said that was not enough, that the conflict has beengoing on for over a year and there were still army checkpointsaround the city. Another video Wednesday from the same city showedthe observers walking up to a government tank. "Why hasn't the army evacuated?" the unidentified resident asked."The first clause of the Annan plan is that the army withdraw fromcities. So where is the army withdrawal?" ___ Hubbard reported from Beirut.
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