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U.N. observers evacuated from tense Syrian town after blast

May 16, 2012 | 11:02 am

U.N. vehicle

BEIRUT — Six U.N. observers whose convoy was struck by a roadside bomb in northern Syria a day earlier were evacuated to their base in Hama province Wednesday, a U.N. spokesman said.

"The U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria reports today that it has picked up the six U.N. military observers," read a statement from Ahmed Fawzi, a spokesman for U.N. envoy Kofi Annan. "They are now back in their Team Site in Hama."

One senior observer told The Times that the team headed off to their headquarters after staying "with the people in the village of Khan Sheikhon" in Idlib province.

A rebel spokesman and an observer in the stranded team, however, said the group had stayed overnight with rebels in the Free Syrian Army. 

A roadside bomb struck the team's convoy Tuesday, damaging three of the four vehicles but causing no injuries, the U.N. said. Opposition activists said the blast came after government troops fired at mourners in a funeral procession. The attack reportedly killed 20 people.

Amateur video uploaded to YouTube purportedly showing the incident depicts scenes of chaos, with the U.N. vehicles covered in smoke after a loud bang was heard. People are seen running for cover, and later the four SUVs drive away slowly on a dirt road strewn with slippers, apparently left behind by the mourners running for cover.

The pro-government Syrian TV station Addounia claimed that gunmen had fired on the U.N. monitors. 

The incident came amid reports from the Syrian opposition of more violence Wednesday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces fired on a refugee camp in the country’s southern province of Dara, killing at least three people, including a child.

Meanwhile, the Syrian activist network Local Coordination Committees reported heavy shelling on the town of Rastan and raids in the provinces of Hama and Dara and the Damascus suburbs. The group reported dozens of deaths across Syria.

An activist in Quseir, in Homs province, alleged that 21 civilians were killed Wednesday as the army and shabiha militia members invaded the Homs neighborhood of Shimas. The activist, Abu Anas, alleged that they raided homes and took the men and boys and shot them execution-style in the street.

Tuesday’s alleged attack on the funeral procession in Idlib marked another blow to the unraveling cease-fire brokered by Annan, and was the second time in a week that monitors have been caught up in the country’s violence.

Last week, a roadside bomb hit a Syrian military truck in Dara only seconds after a convoy carrying the head of the observer mission passed by.

More than 200 U.N. observers have been deployed across the country to monitor the cease-fire.

U.N. estimates say more than 10,000 people have been killed in the bloody crackdown on opponents of President Bashar Assad.


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Photo: This image from amateur video released by the Shaam News Network on Wednesday purports to show a towed U.N. observer car in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria. Credit: Shaam News Network / Associated Press