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Top UN Truce Monitor in Syria, Urges Halt to Killings

UN-appointed Norwegian Major General Robert Mood talks to the media after his arrival at Damascus airport, April 29, 2012.
UN-appointed Norwegian Major General Robert Mood talks to the media after his arrival at Damascus airport, April 29, 2012.

The newly appointed head of the United Nations observer mission in Syria has called on President Bashar al-Assad's troops and the opposition to stop fighting and allow a tenuous cease-fire to take hold.

Major General Robert Mood arrived in the capital, Damascus, on Sunday to lead an advance team of 30 unarmed U.N. observers tasked with monitoring an April 12 truce that has been plagued by continued fighting.

The Norwegian general appealed for a "cessation of all armed violence" but said U.N. monitors "cannot solve all the problems" in Syria, asking for cooperation from forces loyal to Mr. Assad as well as rebels seeking to end his rule.

Even as he spoke Sunday, activists reported at least 25 people killed in violence throughout the country, including 14 civilians shot dead by troops in the village of Hamadi Omar in central Hama province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group tracking the conflict, said other fatalities included two people killed by government snipers in Homs, and three soldiers who died in clashes with army defectors.

Also Sunday, an Islamist group calling itself the "al-Nusra Front" claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least nine people in Damascus on Friday.

The latest casualty figures as well as the claim for the attack Friday could not be independently confirmed.

Al-Nusra named the bomber as Abu Omar al-Shami and said he detonated his explosives amidst 150 Syrian security forces who were gathered outside the Zain al-Abideen mosque in the capital's Midan district.

The group has also claimed responsibility for a January suicide bombing in Midan and other bombings in Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo.

Since the truce took effect, forces loyal to Mr. Assad have continued assaulting opposition hubs, while rebel fighters have repeatedly ambushed government security personnel. Each side has accused the other of provoking attacks.

The U.N.-backed cease-fire is part of a peace plan mediated by international envoy Kofi Annan.

A spokesman for the U.N. mission in Syria said observers have set up permanent bases in the towns of Homs, Hama, Daraa and Idlib, all areas of the opposition targeted in the government's 13-month crackdown.

Neeraj Singh also said it is a "matter of utmost urgency" for the United Nations to expand the monitoring mission in Syria to include all of the 300 personnel authorized by the U.N. Security Council. It is unclear when and if the full contingent will be deployed.

General Mood has years of experience in U.N. peacekeeping operations, including with peacekeepers in Lebanon, as well as leading the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization from 2009 to 2011. The UNTSO was the U.N.'s first peacekeeping operation, started after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war to monitor a cease-fire. It now watches cease-fires around the Middle East.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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