Syria violence rages, France tells U.N. to hurry

Wed Apr 25, 2012 4:11pm EDT
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By Oliver Holmes

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian forces shot dead four civilians on a bus on Wednesday and fighting raged near Damascus, dissidents said, as international pressure mounted on President Bashar al-Assad to honor U.N.-backed ceasefire pledges to order his troops back to barracks.

In the city of Hama, an anti-Assad hotbed, an explosion ripped through a building, killing at least 12 people and wounding dozens more, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Another activist group, the grassroots Local Coordination Committee, said the blast was caused by a rocket launched into the building and put the death toll much higher at 54, including several children.

A third activist source said the explosion may have come from inside the building. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the varying accounts.

There was no comment from Syria's government, which says it is committed to U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan's April 12 ceasefire accord, but reserves the right to respond to what it says are continued attacks by "terrorist groups".

Hama has been hosting a small team of United Nations observers, who are preparing the way for a larger U.N. mission which will arrive to monitor the ceasefire pact.

In defiance of the truce accord, shelling was relentless in Douma, east of the capital, residents said, giving further ammunition to Western states such as France that want broad United Nations sanctions to try to end more than a year of fighting in which 9,000 people have been killed.

As well as urging faster deployment of U.N. monitors, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris would push for a so-called "Chapter 7" resolution, which would mean punitive sanctions, next month if Assad's forces did not pull back.   Continued...

Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Kafranbel, near Idlib April 24, 2012. REUTERS/Raad Al Fares/Shaam News Network/Handout