UN observers bring hope to desperate Homs residents

Screen grab from a video showing UN observers with residents of Homs. 
 
To the surprise of residents of the northern Syrian city of Homs, the presence of UN observers has given them a welcome respite from the army’s heavy bombings.
 
Syrian forces have repeatedly violated a tenuous ceasefire agreement with anti-government insurgents brokered by the United Nations last month, so the citizens of Homs didn’t expect the presence of a UN monitoring mission to make any difference. But to their surprise, it has. One of our contacts in the city tells us that the monitors’ presence seems to have prevented Syrian forces from resuming their bombardments.
 
UN observers arrived in Syria on April 15 for a three-month mission. Currently, there are only 30 observers on the ground; however that number should climb to 300 by the end of the mission, according to a resolution voted unanimously by the UN Security Council.
 
The observers’ goal is to make sure the ceasefire is respected throughout the country – which is still far from being the case. They must also make sure that Syrian authorities are implementing the six points of the Annan plan: ending violence, political dialogue, humanitarian aid to affected civilian populations, the end of arbitrary arrests, freedom of the press, and freedom of political expression.
 
But even with the UN observers in the country, violence has continued. Twenty-nine civilians were killed last week in bombings across the country, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition watchdog group.  After reports that a series of bombs had ripped through the city of Idlib, killing 20, the head of the UN mission, Major General Robert Mood, called on all parties to bring an end to the violence.
 
According to the UN, more than 9,000 people have died since the start of the uprising; the Syrian Observatory for Human rights puts the death toll at over 11,000.
 
Homs residents address a UN observer. 
Contributors

“Bombings have stopped in Homs ever since the observers arrived”

Yazan is a member of Homs’ opposition revolutionary committee.
 
I got to meet and talk to UN observers three times last week in the neighbourhood of Khaldiyeh. Some speak Arabic; others have interpreters. My companions and I told them point-blank that the UN had lost all credibility in our eyes for failing to prevent the Syrian people from being massacred. The UN took much too long to react.
 
The observers split their time between pro-opposition neighbourhoods and pro-government neighbourhoods. Our revolutionary committee provides them with a detailed report of the violent abuses committed in the city. These are different from the reports that we write for the media, because they also point to subjects on which the observers can directly intervene. For example, we alerted them to the fact that there were dead bodies in the streets that we hadn’t been able to recover because of snipers. We’re hoping that they can help us secure these perimeters so we can safely recover and bury the remains. The UN emissaries pay attention to these reports; they have asked us to take them to the places in question so that they can see the facts for themselves.
 
"Although I have my doubts, the fact that I see the behaviour of Syrian troops change when the UN observers are around gives me some hope"
 
The observers’ arrival has had a real impact on the city of Homs: bombings have stopped since they got here. Shootings continue, but not when the observers are around, which didn’t use to be the case. Now at least they wait to shoot us until the observers are out of sight.
 
Although I have my doubts, the fact that I see the behaviour of Syrian troops change when observers are around gives me some hope. I say to myself that if they’re able to stop the bombings, then maybe they’ll be able to enforce the six-point Annan plan. If Syrians recover their political rights like the right to gather and protest freely, then we’ll keep marching in front of the presidential palace until President Bashar al-Assad leaves.
 
A Homs resident in the neighourhood of Khaldiyeh asks the UN observers to stay, because bombings have stopped since they've arrived. 
 
Homs residents walk with UN observers when, all of a sudden, shots ring out. 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira. 

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respite

Not only from Government forces attacks, but also from the armed insurgents
We must be fair

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