BEIRUT – Syrian troops shelled a rebel-held neighborhood and sent reinforcements to border areas as the opposition called for fresh protests Friday after the United Nations accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of failing to honor a peace plan that went into effect a week ago.
The latest violence came hours after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Thursday for the U.N. Security Council to adopt an arms embargo and other tough measures against Syria during a meeting in Paris of Western and Arab diplomats.
Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Syria was not honoring the cease-fire, which took effect last week, and that violence was escalating.
The cease-fire is seen as the most viable way to end the bloodshed that has killed more than 9,000 people since an uprising against Assad began 13 months ago. The U.N. has sent a team of seven international observers into Syria, with the hopes of boosting the numbers soon.
An amateur video posted online by activists showed the head of the observer team, Col. Ahmed Himiche, talking to residents in the southern town of Khirbet Ghazaleh on Thursday. Himiche asked them whether schools and hospitals are available in the town.
"They (troops) assassinate whoever we take to the general hospital," one man replied.
A woman told him that she was desperately seeking information on her missing sons.
"My two sons, who are farmers, were taken three months ago and I don't know anything about what happened to them," she said. She picked up her grandson and brought him to Himiche, instructing the child to say: "I want my father."
On Friday, in the rebel-held Khaldiyeh neighborhood in the central city of Homs, a mortar round was hitting every five minutes, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. An amateur video posted online by activists showed thick black smoke billowing as shells fell in a residential area.
Citing its network of sources on the ground, the group said explosions and cracks of gunfire rang out in the town of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon. Activists said regime forces were sending reinforcements to Qusair.
"Regime forces are fortifying their positions in eastern and western Qusair," about 10 kilometers (7 miles) from Lebanon, said the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdul-Rahman.
Activists called for anti-government protests after the Friday prayers.
In Paris, France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Friday that the international community has to live up to its responsibilities in Syria and prepare for the possible failure of an increasingly fragile peace plan. He told France's BFM television that if special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan "doesn't function, we have to envisage other methods."
Juppe said France would support a U.S.-backed proposal for a U.N. arms embargo and other tough measures against Syria, adding that the peace plan is "the last chance before civil war ... We don't have the right to wait."
Clinton had referred during the Paris meeting to a resolution under the U.N. Charter that would be militarily enforceable.
"We need to start moving very vigorously in the Security Council for a Chapter 7 sanctions resolution, including travel, financial sanctions, an arms embargo, and the pressure that that will give us on the regime to push for compliance with Kofi Annan's six-point plan," she said.
Her comments were welcomed by the Syrian opposition.
"The fact that Mrs. Clinton talked about this resolution (Chapter 7) shows that the international community is preparing to take stronger action against this cruel regime," said Fawaz Zakri, an Istanbul-based member of the Syrian National Council.
"We can also surmise that this means the United Nations' and the West's patience is wearing thin," he said.
Ban has recommended the Security Council quickly approve a 300-member U.N. observer mission to Syria, a number larger than what was originally envisioned. But he said he will review ground developments before deciding when to deploy the mission.
Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for international Syria envoy Kofi Annan told reporters in Geneva Friday that the United Nations hopes to have 30 cease-fire monitors in the country next week.