At least 20 people killed in Idlib; top U.N. truce monitor takes over in Syria


More than 20 people were killed on Monday in twin blasts targeting security buildings in the city of Idlib, northwest Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The majority of those killed were members of the security forces, the group added.

A third blast also rocked the city of Idlib, hours after the twin explosions targeted the security buildings, according to the same source.

"An explosion shook the university neighbourhood in Idlib and there are reports of wounded persons," the Britain-based group said.

On Sunday, militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at the Central Bank building in Damascus, causing slight damage, and wounded four police when they attacked their patrol, state television reported. Activists in Damascus reported explosions and gunfire.

As many as 28 people have been killed by the Syrian forces across the country, mostly in Homs, hotbed of a 13-month uprising, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian general charged with overseeing the shaky U.N.-brokered truce in Syria arrived in Damascus on Sunday, boosting a monitor mission that activists say has helped ease the violence in the city of Homs.

General Robert Mood acknowledged the huge task awaiting the planned 300-strong unarmed mission, which now has 30 people on the ground, but said he was confident it could make headway, according to Reuters.

The United Nations says President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have killed 9,000 people during the revolt, the latest in a string of uprisings in the Arab world against autocratic rule.

Damascus says 2,600 of its personnel have died at the hands of anti-Assad militiamen, and has accused the United Nations of turning a blind eye to “terrorist acts” against security forces.

Syria’s SANA official news agency said U.N. observers on Sunday toured the Khalidiya district of Homs, which endured weeks of shelling by government forces before the April 12 ceasefire.

Violence drops sharply

An activist in Homs, speaking via Skype, said violence had dropped sharply in the city since the observers deployed a permanent two-man team to the restive city last week.

“There are still violations, but the shelling and mortar fire has stopped,” Karam Abu Rabea said. “We have insisted that the observers stay in Homs because we know if they leave (the attacks) will continue.”

He said the presence of the monitors on Saturday had allowed residents to retrieve three bodies that had previously been too risky to collect because of the threat of sniper fire.

The lull had also enabled people to clear rubbish left to rot in the streets. “There is a danger of disease from the rubbish. Until now it was left in the streets,” Abu Rabea said.

With the bloodshed adding to the death toll each day since the ceasefire, Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger said Annan’s peace plan was “in danger,” in an interview with Swiss weekly Der Sonntag, AFP reported.

“I place great hope in the six-point plan of Kofi Annan, which includes the U.N. mission tasked with monitoring the ceasefire,” Kellenberger told the paper. “Unfortunately, I am also very aware that the plan is in danger.”

Across the border in Lebanon, intelligence officers on Sunday were questioning the crew of a Sierra Leone-flagged vessel originating in Libya over allegations it was carrying arms to Syrian rebels.

The interception of the ship by Lebanon -- currently governed by a largely pro-Syrian coalition -- gave grist to Russian opposition to the tough Western and Arab line taken against its long-time Middle East ally.

Lebanon said it had intercepted three containers of heavy machineguns, artillery shells, rockets, rocket launchers and other explosives destined for rebel forces.

State newspapers Tishrin and Ath-Thawra, meanwhile, charged that al-Qaeda was operating in Syria and carrying out its trademark suicide car bombings with the support of Washington and some Arab countries.

Claiming responsibility

On Sunday an Islamist group called “al-Nusra Front” claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least nine people in Damascus on Friday, according to Reuters.

Both sides have been accused of multiple violations of the ceasefire engineered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

Under the deal, Assad’s tanks and troops are supposed to return to barracks. Damascus says this has happened, although U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon disagreed this week, saying he was “gravely alarmed by reports of continued violence.”

“The problem is whether the Syrian government will agree to us deploying our own assets,” he said late on Sunday.

Ban said Syria’s U.N. ambassador had promised unconditional cooperation. But it was difficult to “give full credibility on their promise, because they have not kept their promises,” he told reporters during a visit to Myanmar.

Besides Homs, the U.N. has established permanent monitoring post in the cities of Idlib, Hama and Deraa.

The presence of the monitors has emboldened thousands of protesters to resume demonstrations after weeks of military crackdown, but activists say Assad's forces have hit back.

Security forces carried out house to house raids in the Damascus suburb of Irbin on Saturday, arresting demonstration leaders who welcomed the observers a week ago, two resident activists said.