Syrian activists say government forces have killed at least 28 people in the city of Hama, one day after residents of the opposition hub welcomed several United Nations soldiers sent to observe a shaky cease-fire in the country's year-long conflict.
The activists say Syrian security forces attacked Hama on Monday morning, shelling its Arbeen district, destroying homes and firing machine guns. Casualties from the assault could not be independently confirmed. A small advance team of U.N. observers had visited Hama on Sunday and was greeted by protesters chanting slogans against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A U.N. observer spokesman says three more members joined the team Monday, raising its number to 11. A video posted online by activists showed some U.N. monitors visiting the rebellious Damascus suburb of Douma, surrounded by thousands of people shouting anti-Assad slogans.
Several U.N. observers also made a brief visit to the mountainous town of Zabadani near Damascus. Activists said they were disappointed that the monitors refused to inspect locations where residents said the government was hiding heavy weapons. The Syrian government pledged to withdraw such weapons from population centers this month as part of a U.N.-backed plan to peacefully resolve its conflict with anti-Assad rebels.
U.N. political affairs chief Lynn Pascoe said Monday the Assad government's compliance with the peace plan is "clearly insufficient." He made the comment in remarks to the U.N. Security Council. Syria has said it is committed to the plan but reserves the right to respond to attacks by armed terrorists whom it says are driving the revolt.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told VOA that the observer team in Syria will grow to 30 personnel by the end of April. The Security Council has authorized a mission of up to 300 unarmed monitors, but exiled Syrian opposition leaders say that number is too small to cover Syria's vast territory.
In another development, Western powers announced additional sanctions on the Assad government to pressure it into stopping its deadly crackdown on dissent.
U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order penalizing companies and individuals that provide technology that helps Syria and its regional ally Iran to oppress their people. In a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, Mr. Obama promised not to give up on the Syrian people, whom he said still brave the street and demand to be heard despite all the "tanks ... torture and brutality unleashed against them."
The European Union also agreed to ban exports to Syria of luxury goods favored by Mr. Assad and his wife and block the sale of items that his government could use for internal repression as well as commercial purposes. EU experts will draw up a list of banned goods at a later date.
The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria's 13-month crackdown on the uprising, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.