UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council is set to vote Saturday on a resolution allowing an observer mission in Syria, with Russia’s support in doubt, as a fragile ceasefire between troops and rebels enters a third day.
The hard-won truce to end a 13-month crackdown on dissent that has cost an estimated more than 10,000 lives appeared to be holding, but only just.
Thousands of Syrians marched Friday to test the regime’s commitment to a UN-backed peace plan, and the ceasefire was again shaken when security forces killed eight civilians.
The United States called for the vote after a second day of wrangling over security guarantees for the first 30 unarmed military monitors whom UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan wants in Syria early next week.
Russia opposed the council demanding that President Bashar al-Assad carry out a commitment to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from Syrian cities.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was not “completely satisfied” with the talks held at the UN on Friday. Russia and China have vetoed two previous Security Council resolutions on Syria.
Negotiations had been “rather difficult,” he said, while insisting that Russia wants a vote on Saturday that allows the Syrian ceasefire to be “reinforced.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he did not expect it to last, questioning Assad’s sincerity, and appealed for observers to monitor his compliance.
Spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), Basma Qoudmani, said there was “concrete proof that heavy weapons are still in population centres.”
Security forces killed six civilians in various cities around the country Friday, and two soldiers lost their lives.
Even so, the toll is markedly lower than in recent weeks, when there have often been scores of people killed on a daily basis.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the toll remained relatively low despite demonstrations across the country Friday, with tens of thousands taking to the street, mostly after Friday prayers.
Sporadic clashes also broke out between troops and rebels at Khirbet al-Joz on the border with Turkey, the Observatory said.
Hoping to renforce and monitor the fragile ceasefire, the United States with its allies and Russia put rival resolutions up for a vote by the UN council. Only a vote on the US version has been scheduled so far.
Both drafts authorize the deployment of up to 30 unarmed military observers in Syria.
But a text proposed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Morocco and Colombia demanded “full, unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement” for the observers.
It also said Assad must “implement visibly” commitments he made to Annan and would force the council to “consider further steps” if Syria does not carry out the promised actions.
The UN eventually wants to have at least 200 monitors in Syria. As well as approval for the monitors, Annan has asked the council to call on Assad to carry out all commitments under the envoy’s six-point peace plan.
After the ceasefire came into force at dawn on Thursday, Annan declared he was encouraged by the reports that Syria was relatively calm and that the ceasefire appeared to be holding.
But as Assad’s government and the rebels traded accusations of trying to wreck the ceasefire, Annan insisted that all parties implement the six points of the peace plan.
The plan calls for the withdrawal of forces from urban areas, the release of arbitrarily detained people, freedom of movement for journalists and the right to demonstrate.
Despite their past vetoes on Syria, Russia and China have strongly committed to Annan’s six-point peace plan and say they are putting increased pressure on Damascus.
The Security Council has passed three “presidential statements” but no formal resolution on Syria since the uprising against Assad started in mid-March last year.