BEIRUT –- As six members of a United Nations monitoring mission began setting up an operations headquarters and reaching out to both sides of the Syrian conflict Monday, the violence continued to slip toward the level it had been before a cease-fire began Thursday.
In coming days, 25 more observers are expected to arrive in the Syrian capital of Damascus to monitor what was hoped to be an end to 13 months of unrest in Syria.
The U.N. observers were in touch with the government and opposition forces so that both sides understood their role, said Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for special envoy Kofi Annan, who brokered the peace plan.
The monitoring team is due to leave Damascus soon to set up operational bases in other cities and towns, U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations spokesman Kieran Dwyer said. The monitors will also prepare for a larger mission of perhaps as many as 250 observers, which will depend on the situation in the country and the daily reports from the advance team, he said.
"It is the responsibility of all sides in Syria to stop all forms of armed violence," said Dwyer. "The United Nations unarmed monitors can play a critical role in helping the parties meet this responsibility by working with all sides and independently monitoring the situation -- but they cannot force the parties to stop the violence.... The Security Council is watching very closely to determine whether conditions will allow the deployment of the full monitoring mission."
In expressing what she called grave U.S. concerns over continuing violence on the part of the Syrian government, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice raised questions about the continuation of the peacekeeping mission.
"Should the violence persist," she said, it "will call into question the wisdom and viability of sending in the full monitoring presence."
At least 40 people were reported killed Monday, including several in continued shelling of two neighborhoods in the battered city of Homs, opposition activists said.
In the northern city of Idlib, activists said, the army shelled neighborhoods all day, leaving an unknown number of people dead. One building collapsed and residents pulled out 21 bodies from under the rubble, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an antigovernment coalition.
The dead were buried in a local park in the Shimali neighborhood.
Another town, Saraqib, was also shelled Monday, and the region’s second largest city, Maarat Numan, was shelled the day before, said Adham Abu Hussam, an activist in nearby Binnish.
The cease-fire agreement has brought some hope to Syrians, even if the reality surrounding them does not resemble a truce, he said.
“Calm, there is no calm,” the activist said. “Every day you are seeing 20 or 30 killed. But before every day we would go to sleep to the sound of the shelling and wake up to the sound of shelling."
-- Rima Marrouch
Photo: Syrians walk between destroyed buildings in the Inshaat neighborhood of Homs, Syria, on Sunday. Credit: Associated Press