Shots fired in Syria town during UN observer visit


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two vehicles carrying UN truce monitors sped away from a large crowd of Syrian anti-regime protesters today when what sounded like a gunshot rang out in a Damascus suburb they were touring, according to amateur video posted online.

A UN official confirmed the monitors toured the Arbeen suburb of the capital, but said he did not know whether shots were fired while they were there. Opposition activists said security forces at one point opened fire in Arbeen to disperse thousands of demonstrators, wounding eight.

Six observers arrived in Syria over the weekend as an advance team for a larger contingent meant to shore up a week-old cease-fire that has been buckling under regime assaults on opposition strongholds and several bombings and shootings by the rebels.

Later Wednesday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon is to report to the UN Security Council on Syrian compliance with the truce and whether conditions are right to expand the observer mission. Under a plan by joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, a truce is to pave the way for talks between President Bashar Assad and those trying to topple him. The uprising against Assad erupted 13 months ago and has turned increasingly violent in response to a brutal regime crackdown.

Several thousand anti-regime protesters took to the streets in the Arbeen suburb of Damascus, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Security forces opened fire, wounding eight demonstrators, he said.

In amateur videos said to show the events in Arbeen, hundreds of demonstrators are seen crowding around at least three UN vehicles, clapping, waving Syrian flags and chanting in support of the rebel Free Syrian Army. A handwritten sign taped to one of the UN cars, apparently by the protesters, reads: "The butcher keeps killing, the observers keep observing and the people keep up the revolution."

Another video shows hundreds walking along as the two UN vehicles slowly make their way through a wide street in Arbeen. When a shot rings out, the two UN cars speed away, leaving the demonstrators behind.

In a third video posted online by the same user, hundreds of people waving flags are seen in a march. At one point, they panic and run for cover. A narrator says they are being shot at while the observers are in the area and gunfire is heard in the background.

Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fazwi, confirmed that the UN observers were in Arbeen on Wednesday. He said he did not know whether the observers were present during the reported shooting.