'Dozens dead' after UN Syrian visit
Syrian troops armed with heavy machine guns killed dozens of people in the central city of Hama on Monday, activists said, a day after chanting protesters welcomed a visit by a UN team sent to observe a shaky ceasefire.
The city's worst violence in months added a dangerous aspect to the UN team's work amid fears the Syrian regime might exact deadly revenge against opponents who feel empowered by the observers' presence and spill into the streets.
Observance of the truce, which was supposed to begin on April 12, has been patchy at best. The main manifestation has been a temporary halt to fighting between president Bashar Assad's troops and rebel forces in locations where observers are present.
Scepticism about the ceasefire remains high, but world leaders say the plan to stop more than a year of hostilities might be the last chance.
The UN's political chief B Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council that the Syrian government is still using heavy weapons and has failed to implement the peace plan brokered by former secretary general Kofi Annan.
Mr Pascoe said Syria's compliance with other elements of the plan, such as releasing detainees and allowing peaceful demonstrations, is "clearly insufficient".
Some details of Monday's events in Hama remained murky, though different activists said the attacks started early in the morning and stopped a few hours later after dozens of people had been killed.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said troops stormed the town, firing assault rifles and heavy machine guns, killing at least 33 people.
An activist named Ahmed reached by phone in Hama said troops shelled the Arbeen district before sending in foot soldiers. He said 27 people were killed, and families were still searching damaged homes for others. Another activist in Hama, Mousab Alhamadee, reached via Skype, said as many as 50 had been killed. He guessed the attack was a direct result of the UN monitor's visit.
The UN has sent an advance team of eight observers to Syria as part of Mr Annan's plan to end the fighting. More monitors are due to arrive in the coming days, and the UN has authorised a mission of 300 observers, though it remains unclear when the full contingent will deploy.