Syrian activists say security forces have killed at least 27 civilians in attacks across Syria, as France called for a small U.N. truce-monitoring team in the country to be expanded rapidly.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government shelling of the central city of Hama killed at least 12 people on Wednesday. Activists say Syrian troops also shelled the Damascus suburb of Douma, while suspected government snipers in the district killed two people. Elsewhere, the Observatory says Syrian rebels killed three government soldiers in a battle in the southern province of Daraa.
Casualty figures could not be independently confirmed.
Four more observers joined the unarmed U.N. team trying to monitor the shaky cease-fire in Syria's year-long conflict, expanding it to 15 personnel. Activists say several of them visited Douma on Wednesday, while two remained in Hama and two others kept a base in the nearby city of Homs. All three areas have been centers of the 13-month uprising against autocratic Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the U.N.-backed truce that took effect on April 12 has been "seriously compromised" by recent violence. He called on the United Nations to significantly expand the observer team in Syria in the next 15 days to the full contingent of 300 personnel authorized by the Security Council.
Juppe also said international envoy Kofi Annan's next report on cease-fire compliance to be presented to the Security Council on May 5 will be a "moment of truth." Speaking after meeting Syrian opposition figures in Paris, Juppe said that if the Syrian government keeps defying the truce, France will seek to punish Damascus by drafting a "Chapter Seven" Security Council resolution that could be enforced militarily.
Russia and China have twice vetoed Western and Arab-backed Security Council resolutions calling for punitive action against Mr. Assad's government for violently suppressing the revolt.
The Syrian government says it is committed to the cease-fire and other elements of Mr. Annan's peace plan, but reserves the right to defend itself against "armed terrorists" whom it accuses of driving the unrest.
In other violence on Wednesday, Syrian activists said government troops fired on a bus in the northern province of Idlib, killing four people. Syria's state-run SANA news agency said security forces killed one "terrorist" in Idlib province after stopping an "attempted infiltration" of armed militants from Turkey. It is unclear if the SANA report was referring to the same incident as the shooting on the bus.
Meanwhile, diplomats said the U.N. Security Council plans to appoint Norwegian Major General Robert Mood as head of the full observer team in Syria. Middle East expert Joshua Landis, who lived in Syria, said that many Syrians do not have faith that the U.N. mission will resolve the unrest.
"All the Syrians I know are very distraught. They are very worried. Even those who support the regime - and I know a fair number who do - they can't see anything good coming out of this. They are getting angrier at Bashar. On the other hand, they don't like the opposition," Landis said.
The Washington Post said Wednesday that Syria's cash reserves are quickly dwindling as a result of international sanctions. Landis, however, said the international community should not expect Assad to resign, despite mounting economic pressure and the increasing presence of U.N. monitors.
"He's gaining a few more days of his life. The moment he gives up, he's going to be a dead man. He's going to be hung from the yardarm along with a lot of people around him. So, he's fighting for his life," Landis said.
The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria's crackdown on the uprising, while activist groups put the death toll at more than 11,000.
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