A deadly suicide bomb explosion rocked Damascus on Friday, further undermining a shaky two-week-old truce in the country. Skepticism is growing as to whether the cease-fire has any real prospects.
A suicide bomb blast in the Syrian capital, Damascus, has killed at least 11 people in the latest blow to a United Nations-brokered peace plan, while tens of thousands of people protested across Syria, blaming the continued violence on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
State television said dozens were wounded in the Damascus bombing, which occurred as people were leaving weekly prayers at Zein al-Abidin mosque in the central Midan district.
The channel blamed "terrorists" for the attack, the term used by al-Assad's government to refer to the armed opposition. It said the casualties included civilians and security force members.
The regime has repeatedly accused the opposition of failing to abide by a cease-fire that went into force on April 12. It is currently being monitored by an advance team of just 15 UN observers. Syria's opposition, in turn, has accused the government of initiating attacks to discredit it.
Regime "in contravention"
During a visit to New Delhi, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said that the Syrian government was in contravention of a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan by keeping Syrian troops and heavy weapons in urban areas. Ban also expressed alarm at reports of continued government shelling of opposition strongholds.
"The continued repression of the civilian population is totally unacceptable. It must stop immediately. The government of Syria must live up to its promises to the world," Ban said.
UN headquarters also confirmed on Friday that Norwegian Major General Robert Mood will lead the unarmed UN monitoring mission in Syria. Three hundred observers are planned under a UN Security Council mandate. Diplomats quoted by the news agency AFP said Mood was already heading for Damascus.
Mood previously headed the UN's Middle East truce monitoring unit - between 2009 until 2011. He twice served with international forces in Kosovo between 1999 and 2002.
He recently told Norwegian media there was an "abyss of suspicion and violence between the Syrian regime and the opposition."
He added: "It's worth making the effort. The Syrian people deserve to have an opportunity."
Call for further sanctions
At the United Nations, the United States ambassador, Susan Rice, said the Security Council must be ready to impose sanctions if Syria ignores its commitments.
"We condemn ... the government's refusal to abide by its commitments, its continued instense use of heavy weaponry in Hama and elsewhere, which continues to result in large numbers of civilian deaths every day," she said.
Meanwhile, activists have reported that thousands of people held anti-government protests Friday in the northern city of Aleppo, the central region of Hama and the northern province of Idlib.
The protests have been taking place regularly on Friday across the country, usually after noon prayers.
The UN estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad's regime began in March 2011. Non-governmental groups put the toll at more than 11,100.
tj/ipj (AFP, AP)