Assad launches fresh military offensive as UN monitors arrive in Syria

Ceasefire in tatters with fresh shelling of Homs on the day Kofi Annan's observers start work

Beirut

A United Nations peacekeeping mission to Syria risked descending into farce yesterday as Bashar al-Assad's army continued its unrelenting shelling of Homs and fighting raged elsewhere as the handful of observers spent their first day in the country to monitor a supposed ceasefire.

Dressed in army fatigues and blue berets, the advance team of six observers, led by a Moroccan, Colonel Ahmed Himmiche, set about negotiating the mission's ground rules with Syrian officials. As they did so, activists said yesterday's death toll across Syria had reached 30 as the beleaguered city of Homs was pummelled once more with "three or four bombings a minute", and a fierce assault was reported in Idlib.

Seeming to ignore the fact that the ceasefire lay in tatters in some areas, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, urged "maximum restraint" from Syrian forces to "keep this cessation of violence". He also urged the government to ensure freedom of movement for the monitors.

A further two dozen observers are expected to join the UN mission this week. The team, which will monitor the implementation of all six points of Mr Annan's peace plan, will report back its initial findings to the UN Security Council tomorrow. The council will then decide whether to bolster the number of blue berets in the country to 250, but that depends whether the ceasefire is holding.

After an initial lull in heavy artillery fire after last Thursday's ceasefire deadline, the situation deteriorated at the weekend. Activists said yesterday's assault on Homs, with mortar rounds and tank shells, targeted neighbourhoods including Khalidiya and Bayadah, where Free Syrian Army fighters are still entrenched. Waleed Fares, an activist in Khalidiya, said the shelling was some of the worst he had seen since the ceasefire started.

"For the past couple of hours it has been very, very heavy with at least three or four bombings every minute," he said. "The UN observers should come and see the bombing now, but it is all just another game for the regime to give them more time to kill us. How will [the UN] monitor the whole country? I don't expect to see them in my neighbourhood."

The continued violence raised concerns that the UN mission will end in failure. An Arab League team which came before it was criticised for providing a "cover" that allowed President Assad to continue slaughtering his people.

Mustafa Alani, of the Gulf States Research Centre, said he had doubts that the extra UN monitors would ever make it to Syria. "The next few days will be a major test," he said. "The UN are not meant to make peace, they are meant to be there to monitor a peace. Given the situation on the ground, itis hard to see how they will end up reporting back positively to the UN Security Council and the other monitors will be sent."

The Syrian regime says it is cracking down on the "terrorist groups" it claims have stepped up attacks since the ceasefire. The city of Hama was also shelled yesterday after clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and Assad troops. In Idlib, activists said at least 10 people were killed by helicopter gunships and mortars.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special
tvNick Frost, Natalie Gumede and Michael Troughton step up
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: Sheer nastiness of Riot Club takes you aback
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Research Executive - Quantitative/Qualitative

£27000 - £31000 Per Annum Excellent Benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

ETL Developer / Consultant

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Geography Teacher, Immediate start, Dover School

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is urgently s...

English Teacher

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We have an urgent requirement fo...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week