Flanked by Syrian government security forces, UN vehicles made their way to Deraa, the birthplace of Syria's 13-month uprising yesterday, prompting activists to question why they had not chosen to visit a more violent location.
A group of observers toured the southern city and met with the governor, United Nations spokesman Khaled al-Masri said. Another group stayed in Damascus to hold discussions with government officials. There was criticism of their destination, with few reports of violence in the city yesterday, though activists described "massive destruction" in the nearby Deraa province town of Basr al-Harir after artillery shelling.
It was Idlib however, that was reported to have taken the brunt of the army's wrath, with 35 people reported dead yesterday amid a devastating two-day assault by government troops. Shells also continued to pummel the opposition stronghold of Homs, activists said. "They need to focus on some of the hardest-hit areas, like Idlib and Homs," said local coordination committee spokeswoman Rafif Jouejati. "But I suppose, because of their extremely limited number and no guarantees of safety, they have to start somewhere comparatively quiet."
Eight people were killed in Homs, where videos purporting to be from the Bayada and Khalidya districts showed explosions kicking up dust and smoke clouds above the city.
"Why aren't the observers here to see the destruction in Homs?" said one activist based in the old city. "It's here that the shells are falling every single day."
The first six monitors, who arrived on Sunday, are being joined by a further two dozen and are due to report back initial findings to the to the UN Security Council today. That report will be used to assess whether a full mission of around 250 monitors will be sent to the country. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday conceded that even a beefed-up mission may be insufficient to monitor the ceasefire. He added that he had asked the European Union to provide planes and helicopters to improve the mobility of observers.
The UN has urged the Syrian government to allow observers unhindered access but questions have been raised over how independent their monitoring mission can be with the Syrian government providing security. The three UN cars in Deraa were accompanied by regime security forces.