Syrian government troops shelled suburbs of the capital Damascus, killing at least 12 people in a stepped-up regime offensive on rebel areas around the country, activists said today.
Most of the deaths occurred overnight in the restive suburb of Douma, where regime forces fired mortars that struck a residential building, killing eight people.
Douma-based activist Mohammed Saeed and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said that four people were killed in the shelling of Arbeen and Tall suburbs.
"The regime is trying to purge the suburbs of the capital of all resistance," Saeed said. He said the fire on the suburbs was indiscriminate and that a man, his wife and their child died when a mortar shell hit their apartment in Arbeen.
Saeed said UN observers deployed in Syria to monitor the ceasefire, which never really took hold, have not been to Douma in over a week. "But anyway, all they can do is record what they see, they cannot help," he said.
There are nearly 300 monitors currently in Syria to follow up on a peace plan brokered by special international envoy Kofi Annan, which now seems to be disintegrating. The regime and the opposition have ignored the cease-fire, which was supposed to go into effect April 12, and the recent escalation is raising questions about how effective the unarmed monitors can be in a conflict that every day looks more like a civil war.
The head of the UN observers, Major General Robert Mood, said yesterday that a spike in bloodshed is derailing the mission.
"Violence over the past 10 days has been intensifying willingly by the both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers," he told reporters in Damascus.
Mood also said there was a concern among the states that provide the observers that the risk is approaching an unacceptable level — suggesting the violence could prompt the observers to pull out of the country at some point.
Western powers have pinned their hopes on the Annan plan, in part because there are no other options on the table. There is little support for military intervention, and several rounds of sanctions have failed to stop the bloodshed.