BEIRUT Syrias 4-day-old cease-fire appeared to be quickly eroding Sunday, with regime forces firing dozens of tank shells and mortar rounds at neighborhoods in the opposition stronghold of Homs, hours before the arrival of a first team of U.N. truce monitors.
Even though the overall level of violence has dropped, escalating regime attacks over the weekend raised new doubts about President Bashar Assads commitment to a plan by special envoy Kofi Annan to end 13 months of violence and launch talks about Syrias political future.
Assad accepted the truce deal at the prodding of his main ally, Russia, but his compliance has been limited. He has halted shelling of rebel-held neighborhoods, with the exception of Homs, but ignored calls to pull troops out of urban centers, apparently for fear of losing control over a country his family has ruled for four decades. Rebel fighters have also kept up attacks, including shooting ambushes.
The international community hopes U.N. observers will be able to stabilize the cease-fire, which formally took effect Thursday. A six-member advance team of U.N. observers headed to Damascus on Sunday, a day after an unanimous U.N. Security Council approved such a mission. A larger team of 250 observers requires more negotiations between the U.N. and the Syrian government next week.
U.N. Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon expressed serious concern at the Syrian governments shelling of Homs and said the whole world is watching with skeptical eyes whether the cease-fire can be sustained.
It is important absolutely important that the Syrian government should take all the measures to keep this cessation of violence, he told reporters in Brussels after meeting Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo on Sunday. I urge again in the strongest possible terms that this cessation of violence must be kept.
Ban said he had in-depth discussions Saturday with Annan in Geneva and expressed hope that once the full monitoring team is on the ground there will be calm and stability and peace without any violence.
With Assad seen as a reluctant participant in Annans plan, the observers success will depend on how much access they can negotiate in Syria and how quickly the team can grow to a full contingent, analysts said.
The Security Council demanded freedom of movement for the U.N. team, but the regime could try to create obstacles; the failure of an Arab League observer mission earlier this year was blamed in part on regime restrictions imposed on the visitors.