Violence rages on in Syria after UN peace call: Rebels eye Damascus
DAMASCUS - Regime forces on Thursday pressed assaults on rebel zones around Syria, despite a UN Security Council statement urging both sides to implement "fully and immediately" envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a 17-year-old boy was killed and dozens wounded in an army assault on the town of Sermin in the northwestern province of Idlib.
In the south, rebel fighters killed a soldier and wounded four others near the village of Saida in Daraa province, where Syria's year-old revolt against the regime erupted, it said.
The Britain-based Observatory also reported several people wounded as regime forces opened fire with heavy machineguns in the Arbaeen district of Hama city in central Syria.
The reports could not be confirmed due to restrictions on the movements of foreign media in the country.
The official media in Damascus, meanwhile, played up the lack of any threat or ultimatum in the unanimous but non-binding Security Council statement backing Annan's mission.
State news agency SANA noted that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had welcomed the measure, passed in New York on Wednesday, stressing "the document does not contain any ultimatums, threats or assertions who is guilty."
"No warnings or signals in the statement," the SANA report was headlined.
After intense negotiations between major UN powers, Russia and China signed up to the Western-drafted text which calls on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to work toward a cessation of hostilities and a democratic transition.
Russia and China have vetoed two Security Council resolutions on Syria that were backed by the United States and Europe, arguing they were unbalanced and aimed at regime change.
The statement, which carries less weight than a formal resolution, gives strong backing to a six-point plan that UN-Arab League envoy Annan put to Assad during talks in Damascus earlier this month.
On the rebel side, the Free Syrian Army has set up a military council to coordinate operations around Damascus, as it brings the year-old conflict to the capital, it announced in an online video.
"I, Colonel Khaled Mohammed al-Hammud, announce the creation of the military council for Damascus and the region that will be in charge of FSA operations in this region," an army deserter said in the video.
Monitors say more than 9,100 people have been killed in a revolt against Assad that started with peaceful protests before turning into an increasingly armed revolt, in the face of a brutal crackdown costing dozens of lives each day.
Rebel fighters, lightly armed, have been on the retreat from cities since the start of March in the face of the far superior firepower of government forces.
Rebels have been turning to hit-and-run guerrilla raids, with Damascus, which has been largely spared the worst of the bloodshed, becoming a prime target over the past week.
The Security Council on Thursday awaited Syria's formal response to its demand for the "immediate" implementation of proposals that Annan put to Assad in Damascus earlier this month to rein in his bloody crackdown.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he hoped Wednesday's rare show of unity by the 15-member council -- including Russia and China -- would mark a "turning point" in the crisis.
"I hope that this strong and united action by the council will mark a turning point in the international community's response to the crisis," Ban said on a visit to Kuala Lumpur.
With a veiled warning of future action, the Security Council called on Assad and the opposition to work "towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and to implement fully and immediately his initial six-point proposal."
It said Annan should regularly update the council on his efforts, adding: "In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate."
Annan's plan calls for Assad to pull troops and heavy weapons out of protest cities, a daily two-hour humanitarian pause to hostilities, access to all areas affected by the fighting, and a UN-supervised halt to all clashes.
The Security Council also agreed on a press statement, proposed by Russia, that "condemned in the strongest terms" suicide car bombings in Damascus and Aleppo over the weekend that the interior ministry says killed 29 people.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the UN statement and warned Assad to carry out the peace plan or "face increasing pressure and isolation."
European countries still want to press for a full, binding Security Council resolution on the Syrian crisis, with French envoy Gerard Araud calling the statement "a small step by the Security Council in the right direction."
On the ground, Syrian troops fired rocket propelled grenades into northern Lebanon on Wednesday night, sparking panic among the local population but no casualties, a Lebanese security official and residents said.