DARAA, Syria , (AFP) – A roadside bomb wounded six soldiers as they escorted a convoy of UN peace observers, including the general who heads the mission, in southern Syria on Wednesday, an AFP photographer said.
The explosive device, which appeared to have been planted underground, detonated as the convoy of four vehicles was about to enter the town of Daraa, cradle of a 14-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Major General Robert Mood of Norway, the head of the UN mission, was in the convoy but escaped unharmed along with 11 other observers and his spokesman Neeraj Singh, said the photographer who was travelling in the convoy.
The bomb attack was the latest breach of a month-old ceasefire agreement that international envoy Kofi Annan said could be the last chance to avert a civil war in Syria.
Troops elsewhere pounded a rebel hideout near the capital Damascus, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The shelling of Douma, about 13 kilometres (eight miles) northeast of the capital, came as violence across Syria killed at least three people, said the Britain-based watchdog.
Forces loyal to Assad lost two of their own men in clashes with rebel fighters in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, said the Observatory.
On Tuesday, Annan told the UN Security Council the priority in Syria was “to stop the killing,” and expressed concern that torture, mass arrests and other human rights violations were intensifying.
Regime forces “continue to press against the population,” despite a putative truce that started on April 12, but attacks are more discreet because of the presence of the UN military observers, diplomats quoted him as saying.
“The biggest priority, first of all we need to stop the killing,” Annan told reporters in Geneva, adding that his six-point peace plan is “the only remaining chance to stabilise the country.”
Annan briefed the council on his efforts to get Assad to implement the plan, which he said was possibly “the last chance to avoid civil war.”
He stressed, however, that the peace bid was not an “open-ended” opportunity for Assad, the diplomats who attended the briefing said.
Annan plans to return to Damascus in the coming weeks, his spokesman said Tuesday, though this depended on events on the ground there. It would be only his second visit since his mission began earlier this year.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Washington’s goal was still the removal of Assad.
“The United States remains focused on increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and on Assad himself to step down,” Rice said.
“The situation in Syria remains dire, especially for the millions who continue to endure daily attacks and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance,” she told reporters after Annan’s briefing.
Top US officials are to meet delegates from the Syrian Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Washington this week to try to build a “more cohesive opposition” to Assad, a State Department spokesman said.
Annan updated the UN body on the status of his six-point plan, which includes a UN military observer mission, a day after UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned world powers were racing against time to prevent all-out civil war in Syria.
The current 60 or so observers on the ground “have had a calming effect” and the deployment by the end of the month of a 300-strong team would see a “much greater impact,” Annan said.
While there had been a decrease in military activities however, there had been “serious violations” of the agreed ceasefire, which included attacks on government troops and facilities, he added.
“The need for human rights abuses to come to an end cannot be underestimated,” he stressed.
“This is what the plan is all about.”
UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told the Security Council that arms were being smuggled in both directions between Lebanon and Syria.
“What we see across the region is a dance of death at the brink of the abyss of war,” he told reporters later.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said almost 12,000 people, most of them civilians, had died since the revolt broke out in March 2011.
Of that number, about 800 had died since the truce was supposed to have taken effect, said the Britain-based watchdog — and at least six civilians had been killed on Tuesday.
The unrest has persisted despite the presence of UN observers monitoring the truce and parliamentary elections on Monday.
The opposition boycotted the vote, denouncing it as a sham. The United States said the exercise was “bordering on ludicrous.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the UN to bolster its observer mission well past the 300 authorised under a Security Council resolution.
The United Nations has accused both the Syrian regime and rebels of violating the truce.