Syria accused of hiding tanks from UN observers

Beirut

The Syrian regime was accused yesterday of playing a cat-and-mouse game with international observers as it hid tanks and used gunfire to hold back demonstrators when the UN team toured the restive city of Hama, while the presence of the handful of monitors did little to quell violence elsewhere in the country.

Activists said heavy weaponry had been removed from the streets and hidden in government compounds and warehouses ahead of the visit. One video posted online, shot from a high floor of a nearby building, shows a tank hidden behind the walls of what is said to be the Baath Party headquarters.

A fierce assault was also reported in the Damascus suburb of Douma, in which at least two people were killed according to opposition groups. Some residents took to mosque loudspeakers to warn people to take cover in basements as the shells began to rain down.

Just eight of the 30-member advance UN mission have arrived in the country so far, with two more expected today. A Security Council resolution passed on Saturday paved the way for the deployment of an expanded mission of up to 300 observers, if the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decides it is safe for them to go. The UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, yesterday described the vote as a "pivotal moment for the stabilisation of the country".

Both government and rebels have accused each other of violations of the shaky 10-day old ceasefire.

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