In Syria, specter of civil war looms larger amid violence


BEIRUT — Violence in Syria has continued amid a cease-fire, increasing concern that the country is descending into a civil war that could have frightening implications beyond its border, United Nations envoy Kofi Annan told the Security Council on Tuesday.

The U.N.-backed peace plan, meant to end the bloodshed of a 14-month antigovernment uprising, remains the only chance to stabilize the country, Annan said.

“If it fails … and it were to lead into a civil war, it will not affect only Syria, it will have an impact on the whole region,” he said at a news conference in Geneva after his briefing. “This is why we should all be so concerned for the Syrians, for Syria, and for a region.”

Hundreds have been killed since the monitors arrived in Syria three weeks ago. Opposition members and world leaders have criticized the regime of President Bashar Assad for failing to observe the cease-fire by continuing to crack down on dissent.

Annan said the monitors, who now number about 50, have had a calming effect but that cease-fire violations continue, including recent bombings that he said were worrying. He appealed once again for the killing to stop.

The entire 300-member monitoring team is expected to be in Syria by the end of the month.

Violence continued Tuesday, with an activist group reporting that at least 23 people were killed across the country, many of them in Idlib, Homs and Dara. Shelling continued in Idlib and Homs, and activists said security forces opened fire, sometimes randomly, in several cities.

Meanwhile, even as anti-Assad activists and rebels continue to meet with U.N. monitors as they move across the country, the same members of the Syrian opposition have become impatient with what they see as an ineffective mission that has done little to stem the government crackdown.

One activist in Duma, , a suburb of Damascus, the capital, said that Syrians initially had little hope for the U.N. monitoring mission, given the failure of the Arab League mission sent months ago.

“But these observers are even worse than the Arab League,” said the activist, who goes by the alias Omar Hamza. “They visit a town or an area, [and] shortly after it is stormed, people are detained, and the army opens fire. People started praying that the observers don’t visit their area.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been operating in Syria since March, said Tuesday that the conflict is already turning into a guerrilla war in certain parts of the country. The comments by Red Cross President Jakob Kellenberger came the same day that the organization appealed for more than $25 million in donations to help tens of thousands of Syrians.

“The type of the violence has changed a little bit,” he said. “At least in recent weeks, you have no longer these big battles like one had in Homs in the second half of February. You have more guerrilla attacks and bomb attacks.”

Special correspondent Rima Marrouch contributed to this report.