6 U.N. observers arrive in Syria

BEIRUT — Six United Nations observers arrived in the capital of Syria on Sunday night to begin monitoring a cease-fire even as violence continued in parts of the country, further fraying the peace plan.

“They’ve arrived and they will start work tomorrow morning,” Kieran Dwyer, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping department, told Agence France-Presse news agency.

The monitors are part of an advance team whose task is to ensure the implementation of a six-point peace plan designed to end fighting and a brutal government crackdown in Syria’s 13-month uprising.

“Within the next few days, they will be augmented by up to 25 to 30 as soon as possible from missions in the region,” said Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan, who negotiated the peace plan.

The six monitors will meet with Syrian authorities Monday morning to reach agreement on areas the team will visit, Fawzi said. “They will try to leave Damascus to other governorates as soon as possible,” he said.

The monitors are arriving ahead of a larger group, possibly as many as 250 observers, that could be authorized by Wednesday.

But since Thursday, when the cease-fire was supposed to have begun, there have been questions about the Syrian government’s commitment to the plan. Activists have reported instances of security forces firing on protesters, and troops and tanks are still stationed in cities and towns in violation of the truce. Shelling resumed on the battered city of Homs on Saturday and continued Sunday.

There were also reports Sunday of an explosion at a police station in the town of Al Bab in Aleppo province, followed by clashes between rebel fighters and government forces. But there were conflicting versions of what happened and which side may have attacked first.

At least 25 people were killed in Syria on Sunday as raids and shooting at demonstrations continued, with 12 of the deaths occurring in Homs, the antigovernment Local Coordination Committees said.

“There are people and observers coming to visit, but the regime doesn’t care,” said Yazan, an activist in the Khaldiyeh neighborhood of Homs who requested that his full name not be given for safety’s sake. “They will keep pounding the city until the observers come to Homs, then they will stop.”

Yazan likened the U.N. mission to the failed Arab League monitoring effort of several months ago, which he described as “talks only and a waste of time.”

The government of President Bashar Assad is “oftentimes shelling empty areas and buildings, just to send a message, as if they want to affirm Homs’ destruction and want to make it a lesson to the rest of the cities,” he said.

In a statement, the Local Coordination Committees seemed more optimistic, though guardedly so.

The Security Council resolution approving the observer meeting, “while late, may in the context of an international role contribute to reducing the bloodshed of Syrian civilians,” the statement read. “We ... stress the need to see Mr. Kofi Annan’s plan through to the end, despite our doubts that the regime has the will or capability to implement all six points.”

Rima Marrouch contributed to this report.