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UN team visits Homs, shelling stopped

21 April 2012, 15:40Weedah Hamzah

Beirut - A United Nations team of observers visited the dissident Syrian province of Homs on Saturday, hours before the UN Security Council was to decide on increasing the number of monitors in the country.

The Security Council was scheduled to vote on a draft resolution that would expand the number of ceasefire monitors from 30 to 300.

The observers held talks with Ghassan Abdul-Aal, the governor of Homs, the official news agency Sana reported without giving details.

Homs has been a flashpoint area in the pro-democracy uprising that began in March 2011.

The visit, the first by the UN advance team to Homs since its arrival last week, brought relative calm to the area, which was the target of daily shelling by Syrian troops despite a UN-brokered ceasefire, the opposition said.

Activists in the district of Al-Kussair in Homs told dpa the shelling had stopped completely on Saturday, but a woman was killed by sniper fire in the area shortly after midday.

"All telephone lines were restored on Saturday to Homs," said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"This shows that the Syrian regime can halt violence immediately if it wants," he told dpa.

Meanwhile, Sana reported that "terrorists" had blown up an oil pipeline in Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria.

Massive blast

Opposition activists also reported a massive blast at the Mezzeh military airport on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The violence, the latest violation of a fragile truce that came into effect on April 12, came after the opposition Syrian National Council renewed a call for the UN to intervene militarily in the country.

The ceasefire is a core element of a peace plan proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan that also calls for release of detainees and talks between the government and opposition.

The authorities released 30 people arrested for alleged involvement in the anti-government revolt, but who have "no blood on their hands," reported Sana.

A total of 4 000 detainees have been released since November, according to the report.

News from Syria is difficult to verify independently as the government bars most foreign media from the country. The UN says more than 9 000 people have been killed since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad started.



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