U.N. monitors in Syria won't patrol Fridays

U.N. monitors in Syria won't patrol Fridays
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testifies at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing March 7, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

DAMASCUS, Syria, April 20 (UPI) -- Syrians Friday protested the regime of Bashar Assad and excoriated U.N. monitors for declining to patrol on Fridays, the traditional day for mass protests.

"I have no hope in the monitors -- if they don't tour on Fridays, why did they come to Syria?" Yaser, 30, a protester in Jober, told The New York Times. "For us nothing is changed -- we are demonstrating, the Assad forces are killing and the monitors are watching."


"We don't want to be used as a tool for escalating the situation," said Col. Ahmed Himmiche, a Moroccan heading the advance team of U.N. monitors.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said earlier in Beijing his country would implement a six-point peace plan worked out by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan.

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The Chinese Foreign Ministry quoted Moallem as saying Syria will "fulfill its cease-fire, troop withdrawal and other relevant commitments and begin cooperating with the United Nations monitoring team," Day Press in Syria reported.


The Syrian foreign minister was visiting Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, about the situation in Syria and China's role in solving the crisis.

He said Syria welcomes the deployment of additional U.N. monitors to ensure a cease-fire takes hold.

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The U.S. Defense Department has warned for the first time it is considering "all options," including military, to support Syria's uprising against the Assad regime.

"Our approach must keep all options on the table while recognizing the limitations of military force," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the House Armed Services Committee.

Panetta called the persistent violence in Syria, which has shattered an April 12 U.N.-approved cease-fire, "brutal and devastating."

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The violence -- which killed a reported 30 civilians, including two women and a child, Thursday -- has put Syrians "in a desperate" situation, Panetta said.

"It has outraged the conscience of all good people. And it has threatened stability in a very important part of the world," he said.

Panetta said Iran is "Syria's only ally in the region" and is helping prop up the regime of Assad "with material, financial and technical assistance."

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That is because "no other country stands to lose more than Iran from the eventual fall of the Assad regime," he said.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday didn't call for outside military intervention but called on the U.N. Security Council to adopt an arms embargo and other strong measures against Syria.

"We have to keep Assad off balance by leaving options on the table," she said.

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Clinton told 16 foreign ministers in Paris she was "well aware" sanctions would probably be vetoed.

"But we need to look for a way to keep pressing forward," a State Department transcript of her remarks indicated she said.

Clinton said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told her earlier in the day Russia still leaned toward supporting the Assad regime, "but he also has recognized that we are not in a static situation but a deteriorating one."

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Her remarks and those by Panetta followed a dire assessment from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Syria's circumstances were "highly precarious" and that attacks were on the rise, including the "shelling of civilian areas."

Ban warned of "grave abuses by government forces" and demanded the regime immediately pull its heavy military equipment out of cities in accordance with U.N.-Arab League envoy Annan's peace plan.

He called for an initial three-month observer mission to be expanded to 300 monitors in 10 locations from the current eight officers. Ban asked the Security Council to authorize the expanded number.

RELATED Syrian cease-fire attacks, deaths reported

The observer team toured the village of Khirbet al-Ghazaleh, near the southern city of Daraa Thursday.

Khirbet al-Ghazaleh residents have participated in protests against the regime and have hosted members of the opposition Free Syrian Army, prompting regime forces to launch an armor-backed assault on the town in November.

Syria consented to a preliminary agreement Thursday to let the expanded U.N. observer team go anywhere in the country at any time.

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The agreement came as the opposition said government shelling, explosions and arrests escalated, while Syrian state media said the rebels carried out kidnappings and assassinations in violation of the truce.

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