DAMASCUS: Syria sought on Wednesday to reassure the United Nations over its willingness to implement a ceasefire despite violence and casualties still reported in various parts of the country.
Foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi told AFP a protocol outlining a UN mission to oversee the fragile six-day ceasefire was nearly completed and that discussions with an advance team of UN observers had been positive.
“We are about to finalize it,” Makdisi said, referring to the protocol.
“Discussions with UN observers have been constructive and both parties agree on 90 percent of the points,” he added.
Makdisi said talks with the advance team would continue Wednesday afternoon.
The protocol will pave the way for UN observers to fan across the country to monitor a truce aimed at ending 13 months of violence that monitors say has left more than 11,000 people dead.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon was due to report to the Security Council later on Wednesday on progress made by the advance team.
He has made it clear the UN mission could not go forward if Damascus does not cooperate and guarantee the observers safe access across the country.
The team arrived in Damascus on Sunday and is to be expanded to 30 in the coming days.
Approved under a UN Security Council resolution, it is to be reinforced in the longer term with up to 250 international monitors, but this will require a new resolution.
France said 14 foreign ministers would attend a meeting on Syria in Paris on Thursday to send a strong message to Bashar Al-Assad’s regime to implement the peace plan.
“The obstacles to the UN observers’ mission that Damascus is putting in place and the Syrian regime’s continued repression, contrary to its commitments, calls for a strong reaction from the international community,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement.
Juppe said the foreign ministers of the United States, Germany, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia would be among those taking part.
Washington earlier warned that hopes of a larger mission in Syria were being jeopardized by the persistent violence, which saw at least 14 people killed on Wednesday, seven of them civilians, according to monitors.
Three civilians were killed as regime forces launched a fresh bombardment of rebel neighborhood of the flashpoint central city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Four others, including a nine-year-old, were killed elsewhere, the Britain-based watchdog added.
Seven government troops were also killed in a roadside bomb on the outskirts of the northwest town of Idlib, where fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army have been active.
“The violence is escalating. It will be very difficult for the council to send unarmed observers into a hot war,” US Ambassador Susan Rice told CNN television in a new sign of Western doubts about Assad’s intentions.
Another senior UN diplomat said that if Damascus did not complete the protocol by the end of the week then the Security Council could not allow the full mission of 200-250 observers envisaged by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
He said there was a risk the Syrians would not agree to give the monitors “full, unimpeded and immediate freedom of movement and access.”
Damascus ally Moscow has pointed the finger at the rebels, accusing them of trying to provoke violence in a bid to torpedo Annan’s plan and pave the way for foreign military intervention.
“There are plenty of those who would like to see Annan’s plan fail in hopes of then demanding other options — primarily meaning the use of (outside) force,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.
Russia and China courted Western and Arab anger by vetoing two UN Security Council resolutions that would have blamed the Assad regime for the violence.
But they have backed Annan’ peace efforts and voted in favor of Saturday’s text approving the observer mission.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was in Beijing on Wednesday for talks with his counterpart Yang Jiechi.
“Muallem … said Syria would continue to … respect and implement Annan’s six-point proposal,” the Chinese foreign ministry said.
In other developments, Damascus critic Ankara intercepted an Antigua- and Barbuda-flagged vessel in the Mediterranean suspected of carrying arms and ammunition to Syria, a diplomatic source told AFP.
“We received information that the vessel has a cargo of arms and ammunition headed for Syria,” the source said, adding that Turkish authorities would search the vessel later in the day.