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A 30-member UN team is already in Syria to monitor a fragile ceasefire between government forces and rebel militias.     — File Photo by Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to increase the number of observers in Syria to 300 for three months.

A 30-member UN team is already in Syria to monitor a fragile ceasefire between government forces and rebel militias.

The UN resolution was approved at a time when the monitors were allowed to visit the city of Homs for the first time.

The resolution, sponsored by Russia and China, will allow monitors to be deployed for an initial period of 90 days as part of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), according to sources.

The resolution urges Syria to implement “visibly” the ceasefire, stop troop movements and use of heavy weapons in population centres, and to send troops back to the barracks.

UN special envoy Kofi Annan brokered a six-point plan to end the conflict in Syria that the UN estimates has killed more than 9,000 people since March last year. While the daily death toll has fallen since the truce, dozens of killings are still reported on most days, with both sides accusing the other of violating the ceasefire.

In a statement issued after the adoption of the resolution, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for cooperation from all sides to allow the UNSMIS to implement its mandate, to monitor a cessation of violence in all its forms by all parties and to monitor and support the full implementation of Mr Annan’s six-point plan.

“The Secretary-General hopes that the establishment of UNSMIS, with the united and determined support of the Security Council, will help stop the killing and suffering in Syria, and contribute to moving the country towards pluralism and democracy,” the statement said.

AFP adds: Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said that Mr Ban must make a “careful judgment” about conditions in Syria before sending 300 unarmed monitors there.

“Our patience is exhausted. No one should assume that the United States will agree to renew this mission after 90 days,” she told the Security Council after it authorised the full mission.

Several western envoys stressed the dangers of sending unarmed monitors to Syria. “It is an unprecedented step to deploy unarmed UN personnel into such a dangerous environment. It is fraught with risk,” said Britain’s UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.

The small advance team of monitors that is already in Syria, and previously prevented from visiting Homs for “security reasons”, were able on Saturday to tour different districts of the city of the same name, including battered Baba Amr.

Government forces shelled Baba Amr for a month, leaving hundreds dead, according to monitors, before retaking it from rebels on March 1. Two western journalists were among those killed. The visit came as the opposition Syrian National Council claimed that Homs neighborhoods were being pounded, although an activist in the city said the situation was calm.

After the UN vote, Russia called on all sides in the Syrian conflict to stop fighting and cooperate with the monitoring team.

But in the town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border in Homs province, a sniper shot dead a woman, said a British-based human rights watchdog.

Ahead of the UN vote, state-media reported authorities released 30 people detained for their alleged role in Syria’s anti-government uprising, but who have “no blood on their hands”.

The move takes to nearly 4,000 the number of people the authorities have released since November, SANA reported.

Sporadic clashes between government troops and army deserters have rocked Damascus in recent weeks, ahead of a ceasefire that went into effect on April 12.

Elsewhere, an “armed terrorist group” on Saturday blew up a section of an oil pipeline in the Deir Ezzor region of northeast Syria, SANA said.

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