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Syria: preliminary UN agreement gives observers freedom of movement

Week-old cease-fire has so far only slowed violence; Western diplomats fear observers will be used as a 'cover' by Assad government.

Syria observers united nations protocol april 20 2012Enlarge
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad (second left) walks along side deputy military adviser in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations Gen. Abhijit Guha, as they arrive to sign a preliminary accord on April 19, 2012, in Damascus, outlining a protocol for a UN mission to monitor a fragile week-old ceasefire in the strife-torn country. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The United Nations and Syrian government agreed Thursday to ground rules governing the team of international observers set to enter the country to monitor compliance with the 8-day-old cease-fire in Syria, according to Reuters

The news wire wrote that Syria's UN Security Council allies, Russia and China, want to quickly expand the delegation to its full force of 250 to 300 members, but Western countries are hesitant - diplomats have said they think the mission will be used as cover by the Syrian government to continue its crackdown on protesters. 

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters in Beijing the government is "willing to send people and join the work of the observers and the advance team." Yesterday Liu suggested China was considering joining the observer team. 

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The agreement also reportedly will allow the observers to have freedom of movement throughout the country. "That means they can travel by foot or car, take pictures and use technical equipment to monitor compliance with the cease-fire," the Associated Press wrote. Whether the UN can also use aircraft is still being discussed.

A series of afternoon updates from the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group, reported regime force crackdowns on protesters in Damascus suburbs, Deraa, Aleppo, Banyas, and other cities across the country. Friday prayers are often followed by anti-regime protests; this week's theme is "we will win and Assad will lose," according to activists on Twitter.

At a scaled down "Friends of Syria" meeting Thursday in Paris, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Russia may withhold its veto - which it has used to shield the Assad government from UNSC resolutions before - if continued violence pushes the council to vote on a resolution calling for new sanctions. 

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Clinton urged pursuing a Chapter 7 UNSC resolution "very vigorously," GlobalPost wrote. Such a resolution "would provide for the use of force if required."

Diplomatic pressure from the UN also ramped up. The New York Times wrote that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Syria had disregarded nearly every point of the six-point peace plan

Also on Thursday, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a Congressional panel that the Pentagon is already preparing contingency plans to "help protect the Syrian people," if it becomes necessary, Voice of America reported.

Below is a video that the US Embassy in Damascus said shows shelling in the Qusair neighborhood of Homs yesterday.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/120420/syria-preliminary-un-agreement-gives-observers-freedom-movement