A United Nations team dispatched by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus on Thursday in a bid to lay out plans for the eventual deployment of observers in the crisis-wrecked country.
The team headed by Norwegian general Robert Mood, a Middle East specialist, plan to meet Syrian authorities to discuss “the modalities of the eventual deployment of the U.N. supervising mission,” Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
Annan had told the Security Council on Monday that it should consider whether to send a mission to monitor events in Syria, where activists say more than 10,000 people have been killed in a brutal crackdown against protesters since March 2011.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the U.N. Security Council gave formal backing to an April 10 deadline that Annan agreed with the Syrian government to end its military offensive on protest cities, diplomats said.
A statement, in which the council “calls upon the Syrian government to implement urgently and visibly its commitments,” was to be adopted at a meeting on Thursday, diplomats told AFP news agency.
Syrian authorities had told Annan earlier that they have already begun withdrawing troops from three areas, Deraa, Idlib and Zabadani, a move which would comply with the U.N.-Arab League peace plan.
Annan’s spokesman said that U.N. member states were being asked to provide troops to a ceasefire monitoring mission, to be deployed in Syria after April 10.
“Yes they have told us that they have begun withdrawing troops from certain areas,” Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva. “They have specified three cities - Deraa, Idlib and Zabadani.”
Later on Thursday, the Syrian regime announced that it has agreed to provide access to detention facilities throughout the country, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday.
Jakob Kellenberger, who concluded a two-day visit to Damascus on Wednesday, said in a statement that Syrian authorities had agreed on procedures for visits to places of detention.
“The agreement will be put into practice with an ICRC visit to people held in Aleppo Central Prison,” the statement said, without specifying a date.
It said that in Kellenberger’s discussions with Syrian officials, notably Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, it was agreed the ICRC would have an expanded presence in the strife-torn country.
“This means that we will have to rapidly build up our human resources and logistical capacity in Syria,” said Kellenberger.
“This agreement is a sign of trust in the ICRC’s independent and neutral humanitarian action,” he added. “It should enable the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to meet increased humanitarian needs.”
The statement said a procedure on how to trigger the humanitarian pause requested by the ICRC for areas affected by fighting was also agreed with Muallem.
The ICRC has been pushing for a daily humanitarian truce in the conflict, which began in March 2011 with protests against Assad.
The humanitarian ceasefire is included in a six-point peace plan drawn up by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan that is aimed at ending the hostilities.
Security Council statement
In a Security Council meeting on Thursday, Annan said the Syrian army and rebels must end all violence by 6 a.m. Syrian time on April 12 if the government meets its agreed deadline to halt fighting two days earlier.
Annan said “alarming levels” of casualties are still reported in Syria.
“I urge the government and the opposition commanders to issue clear instructions so that the message reaches across the country, down to the fighter and soldier at the local level,” Annan told the U.N. General Assembly.
A statement released by the Security Council called on the Syrian regime to cease troop movements towards population centers and cease the use of heavy weapons in such areas. The statement by the 15-nation council also “calls upon the Syrian government to implement urgently and visibly its commitments” made to Annan to take the steps toward a cessation of hostilities.