December 20, 2014
Clashes in Syria as UN ceasefire monitors due
Syrian government forces shelled the city of Homs, resident opposition activists and a rights activist said, as a six-person advance party of UN observers is due to arrive in Syria to monitor a ceasefire meant to start four days ago.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the 30 unarmed observers who have been sanctioned to enter Syria by a unanimous vote at the Security Council on Saturday was insufficient and had to be "beefed up."
"This number of people cannot possibly effectively monitor what is happening in the whole country," he said in an interview with Sky News, adding that 30 monitors could, however, quickly visit areas where they are reports of ceasefire breaches.
"The plan will be for a much larger (team), more in the hundreds, of monitors to follow them provided the (ceasefire) plan is being implemented by all concerned," he said.
But four days after a ceasefire was meant to come into effect, violence persists.
"Early this morning we saw a helicopter and a spotter plane fly overhead. Ten minutes later, there was heavy shelling," said Walid al-Fares, an activist living in the battered Homs district of Khalidiya.
Activist video footage, reportedly from Khalidiya, shows an explosion shortly after the sound of a missile flying through the air. Another whiz follows, and the cameraman, standing in a nearby building, pans across to show a ball of flames and smoke rising into the air.
Rami Abdelrahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said shells were being fired at a rate of one a minute. He said there had also been overnight clashes in rural Aleppo.
"People said they heard explosions and shooting after rebels attacked a police station and then clashed with police," he said.
Syria blames the violence on "terrorists" seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad and has repeatedly denied journalists access to the country, making it impossible to independently verify the reports.
Although violence has continued throughout the ceasefire, there has been a significant drop in the daily death toll in fighting which has often killed more than 100 people a day.
On Saturday, 14 people were killed in the violence, Abdelrahman said and the state news agency SANA said "armed terrorists" killed five people in ambushes around the country.