Activists: Syrian forces resume shelling

By KARIN LAUB
Associated Press
BEIRUT
Syrian activists said troops bombarded a Damascus suburb with mortar shells and machine guns Wednesday, a day after special envoy Kofi Annan described the situation in Syria as bleak.

This is the second day of government attacks on Douma despite visits to the suburb by U.N. cease-fire monitors. Activists say these visits deter attacks in some cases, but in others appear to bring on retaliation by government forces after the observers leave.

Persistent bloodshed has tarnished efforts by U.N. observers to salvage the truce that started to unravel almost as soon as it began on April 12. Despite the violence, however, the international community still sees the peace plan as the last chance to prevent the country from falling into civil war _ in part because there are no real alternatives.

The truce is a key element of Annan's plan to halt more than 13 months of violence in Syria, triggered by a brutal regime crackdown on what began as peaceful protests but gradually turned into an armed uprising.

Annan said Tuesday that he hopes that a quick deployment of up to 300 U.N. observers will gradually pacify Syria. Currently, 13 observers are on the ground, and U.N. officials say the team should grow to 100 within a month.

In areas where observers stay for a longer period, their presence appears to deter regime attacks. However, activists say brief observer visits have had the opposite effect. In the city of Hama, more than 30 people were reported killed by regime forces Monday, after the observers left, in what activists said appeared to be retaliation against those who dared to protest.

"If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible," Annan said of Monday's violence, speaking to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

Douma came under heavy government attack on Tuesday, with at least eight people reported killed by shelling and heavy machine-gun fire. On Wednesday, government troops resumed their assault in the morning, firing tank cannon and heavy machine-guns, said Mohammed Saeed, an activist in Douma.

The Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots group of activists, confirmed the bombardment. They said it involved mortars and machine-guns.

The state SANA news agency reported that U.N. monitors visited the suburb on Wednesday. This would be the third day in a row that they went to Douma.

Saeed said much of Douma has been without electricity for a day because of heavy damage caused by Tuesday's attacks. Residents are seeking cover from shelling on the lower floors of apartment buildings, he said. The streets are largely empty for fear of snipers on rooftops, he said. Among those killed Tuesday was a medical doctor killed by sniper fire while riding in an ambulance, he said.

Syria restricts access to foreign journalists, and reports by activists cannot be confirmed independently.

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