All parties make contingency plans as Syria's cease-fire wobbles

The US envoy to the UN warned that a monitor mission could be curtailed, while rebel fighters amassed weapons in preparation for a renewal of fighting.

Bassem Tellawi/AP
UN observers, led by Moroccan Col. Ahmed Himmiche (l.), leave the Sheraton Hotel in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 16. An advance team of UN observers on Monday was working out with Syrian officials the ground rules for monitoring the country's 5-day old cease-fire.

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An initial deployment of United Nations monitors arrived in Syria yesterday to oversee the cease-fire that went into effect last week, but within hours, the US envoy to the UN was warning that their mission could be cut short because of reports of renewed violence. 

The UN said that although violence has lessened since the cease-fire went into effect April 12, it received reports yesterday of shelling and arrests by regime forces and executions of regime soldiers by rebel fighters. Homs was shelled for the third day in a row, according to activists, and reports of fighting surfaced in Idlib and Hama, Reuters reports.

The UN human rights team reported a "deteriorating humanitarian situation" and said it was "seriously concerned over ... the shelling of the (Khalidiya) neighbourhood and other districts in Homs by government forces and the use of heavy weaponry, such as machine guns in other areas, including Idlib and some suburbs of Damascus." New arrests in Hama and Aleppo were also raising concern. 

The number of deaths has steadily risen since the initial dip at the outset of the cease-fire, and at least 26 were killed yesterday, according to the Associated Press.

"Should the violence persist and the ceasefire, or cessation of violence more aptly, not hold, that ... will call into question the wisdom and the viability of sending in the full monitoring presence," envoy Susan Rice said, according to Reuters.

A handful of monitors are already on the ground. Over the weekend, the Security Council voted to put up to 30 on the ground.

As it has done since the outset of the uprising, the government blamed the violence on armed terrorists, saying "aggression by the groups had 'hysterically escalated' since the start of the cease-fire," CNN reports. Rebel fighters have used the relative lull in violence to prepare for a possible collapse of the cease-fire, amassing weapons. 

"We are preparing ourselves for the next stage if the Annan mission fails," Capt. Amar Wawi, leader of the Ababil Battalion of opposition fighters based in Aleppo, said from the Syria-Turkey border. "We will then use this equipment against the Assad thugs."

"They got this equipment from rebel supporters in the Iraqi-Syrian border," [Lt. Abdullah Oda, an opposition fighter in Istanbul] said. "Now the Free Syrian Army are going to get more weapons, more new things which we need strategically on the ground against tanks and against armor. We accept the cease-fire, but that doesn't mean we are not preparing ourselves. Because we don't trust the regime. The regime is going to kill people."

If the cease-fire fails, he said, "We will answer back with huge operations all over the place."

Both sides have said they have justification for breaking the cease-fire if certain conditions aren't met. Regime forces said that if "terrorist groups" continued staging attacks, they would do what was needed to prevent them, while opposition groups have demanded a timetable for implementing the rest of Kofi Annan's peace plan, claiming that they could not "remain committed indefinitely to 'an empty truce'," particularly amid continuing regime violence, BBC reports. 

But adhering to the peace plan – particularly the stipulation that regime forces be withdrawn from all urban areas – could spell the end for the regime, which remains in control in some area only because of its military force, writes Jim Muir.

If that iron fist is relaxed, it risks losing control of a large proportion of the country, whether to armed rebel groups whose movements are hard to prevent, or simply to a defiant and dissenting populace in the many places where hearts and minds have long been lost.

That could create a momentum which might carry through to the two big urban centres that have not yet been fully caught up in the revolt but where trouble has been on the rise, Damascus and Aleppo, with potentially fatal consequences for the regime.

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