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UN Set to Vote on Sending Observers to Syria

A handout picture released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows a Syrian protester waving a pre-Baath Syrian flag during an anti-regime demonstration in Dael in the southern Daraa province late on April 12, 2012.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote Saturday on whether to authorize a small observer team to be deployed to Syria to monitor implementation of a fragile truce.

The 15-nation council will decide whether to give the green light for an advance team of up to 30 unarmed observers to be sent to monitor the cease-fire called for in U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan.

The truce, which went into effect at 6 a.m. Thursday Damascus time, has been tested by scattered protests and some reported violations, but has largely held.

Diplomats were initially optimistic that they could adopt a western-drafted resolution on Friday that would authorize the advance mission, but Russia presented its own draft text during the day, which Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters was shorter and more concise than the Western one.

“If we are really looking to having this process started - the process of reinforcing the cessation of fire in Syria, I think what we need to do - and it’s been our line of argument - we need to cut off all the things which are not really necessary for this particular purpose,” said Churkin.

The Russian proposal eliminates language included in the Western draft that would require the Syrian government to ensure the observer mission “full, unimpeded and immediate freedom of movement” throughout Syria. It also drops language demanding the Syrian government cease troop movements towards population centers, cease use of heavy weapons and begin a pull-back of its military to their barracks, as called for under Kofi Annan’s peace plan.

Council diplomats met throughout the day Friday and decided to send a revised Western text back to their capitals for instructions, with the hope of voting in the late morning on Saturday.

The U.N. observers likely will be drawn from nearby U.N. peacekeeping missions in south Lebanon and the Golan Heights.

The council will take up consideration in the coming days of authorizing a larger, more complete mission of a few hundred observers to join the advance team.

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 Syrians have died during the 13-month long political crisis. More than 43,000 others have fled to neighboring countries and a million Syrians inside the country are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

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