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UN passes Syria observers motion

The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution expanding the number of UN observers in Syria from 30 to 300 and demanding an immediate halt to the violence that has been escalating since a ceasefire took effect over a week ago.

The resolution gives Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon authority to decide when to deploy the additional observers, based on developments on the grounds including "the consolidation of the ceasefire". Ban accused Syrian president Bashar Assad on Thursday of failing to honour the ceasefire, expressing dismay at the upsurge in violence.

The resolution merges rival Russian and European texts, and dropped a European threat of non-military sanctions if Syria fails to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities.

It comes as fighting and government shelling stopped in Syria's central city of Homs and troops hid tanks in advance of a visit by UN ceasefire observers who toured the area, activists have said.

An advance team of seven UN monitors has been in Syria for about a week to monitor an internationally brokered cease fire that went into effect on April 12. The team has visited several restive areas including the southern province of Daraa and some of the suburbs of the capital Damascus.

However their visit to Homs is particularly important as the city, Syria's third largest, along with its hinterland are among the regions hardest hit by the violence that has left more than 9,000 people dead over the past 13 months, according to the UN.

A municipal official in Homs said the team met with the governor in the city, then went out on a tour.

The UN advance team did not did not venture out on Friday, the day when anti-government protests are usually held after the noon prayers, in a blow to the protesters' hopes. The team's head, Colonel Ahmed Himiche, said they did not go out "because we don't want to be used as a tool for escalating the situation".

Activists say Syrian troops fired tear gas and bullets that day at thousands of protesters who spilled out of mosques after noon prayers, while the state media reported that bombs and shootings killed 17 soldiers.

In contrast, much of Syria was quiet Saturday, activists said. Despite the calm, state-media said "armed terrorists" blew up an oil pipeline that carries crude oil from one of the fields of the oil-rich eastern province of Deir el-Zour. SANA did not give further details but there have been similar attacks on pipelines in the past months.

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