Presence of U.N. monitors helps calm Syrian city

Homs

BEIRUT -- Responding to pleas from residents of the battered Syrian city of Homs, two U.N. observers have remained, helping to extend a cessation of shelling into a second day.

The respite from the bombardment was the first in almost three months in the central city, which has been a rebel stronghold and center of the anti-government uprising against President Bashar Assad.

“We asked them to leave some observers in Homs, as the shelling has stopped and people finally have the courage to leave their homes,” said one activist, who identified himself as Abu Rami. “Today and yesterday we are living days we haven't experienced in more than three months.”

He said the general mood on the streets was one of guarded expectations.

"We learned not to count on any observer missions," he said. "We had one before and it didn't help. But now maybe because the observers are U.N. observers, maybe things will change.”

He said 11 neighborhoods in Homs have been nearly abandoned and residents will not return without guarantees from the monitors. 

It wasn’t clear if the monitors had left their hotel Sunday to visit parts of the city. 

Other monitors visited Rastan, a suburb of Homs, and the city of Hama, which also has been hit hard in the government's crackdown on protesters and rebels.

On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council authorized a larger supervising mission of 300 monitors.

Abu Jabir, an activist in the Old City neighborhood of Homs, said that delays in deploying monitors mean more raids and torching of homes in areas that the government controls. 

In Douma, a suburb of Damascus, activists reported Sunday that troops attacked with tanks and snipers and that heavy shooting could be heard in online videos. In one video, rebels attacked a tank with a roadside bomb. The explosion is followed by gunfire.

At least five people were reported killed in Douma.

In a statement released Sunday, U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan applauded the Security Council’s vote to authorize the monitors and called it a “pivotal moment for the stabilization of the country.”

“The government in particular must desist from the use of heavy weapons and, as it has committed, withdraw such weapons and armed units from population centers,” he said.

The mission, he said, will help create the conditions needed to launch a political process to address the concerns of the Syrian people.

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 -- Rima Marrouch and a Times staff writer

Photo: An image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows Abdul Razzaq Tlas, left, leader of the opposition Katibat al-Faruq, accompanying Moroccan U.N. observer Col. Ahmed Himmiche during the U.N. monitors' visit to Homs on Saturday. Credit: Shaam News Network / AFP

 
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