Both sides continue to violate the Syrian cease-fire, although military observers have mitigated the violence in certain areas, according to the United Nations. Dozens of children have been killed despite the truce.
The United Nation's peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous on Tuesday accused both the Syrian government and opposition forces of violating the cease-fire agreement, adding that Damascus had failed to withdraw heavy weapons from several urban areas.
He said the 24 military observers currently on the ground had spotted armored vehicles and howitzer artillery pieces deployed across Syria, despite Damascus' promise to withdraw its heavy weaponry from cities as a condition of special envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan.
"Regarding heavy weapons, yes, our military observers do see a number of APCs (armored personnel carriers), howitzers and other military equipment in most places where they are," Ladsous told a press conference at the world body's headquarters in New York City.
The Syrian government had claimed that the armored personnel carriers, which transport troops, have been disarmed but this could not be verified, Ladsous added.
'Violations from both sides'
The UN peacekeeping chief accused both sides of frequently breaking the cease-fire, which has been in effect since April 12.
"All parties need to take further steps to ensure a cessation of violence in all its forms," he said. "The important fact is that violations do come from both sides."
'Monitors having impact'
Ladsous said he hoped to speed up deployment of the intended 300 monitors and have the mission at full strength by the end of May. The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously approved the U.N. Supervising Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), led by Norwegian General Robert Mood, on April 14.
A week later, the council boosted the mission to a 300-strong contingent for Syria, a country half the size of Germany.
"The numbers are still small at the moment but they have had a visible impact," Ladsous said, claiming that shelling of cities like Homs had subsided since the deployment of the observers.
The peacekeeping chief said the UN was still wrangling with Damascus over the deployment of air assets, such as helicopters and planes, to monitor the ceasefire. Ladsous said that although there had been restrictions on movement by Damascus at the beginning, the monitors were now able to conduct their work more freely.
"We did have some initial few restrictions of freedom of movement for our people which was represented to us as motivated by security considerations," he said. "But I would say that over the last week or so the freedom has been ensured and they can actually go to the places they want."
Dozens of children killed
On Tuesday, at least 23 people were killed in violence across Syria, including 10 civilians and 12 soldiers loyal to the government. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the conflict, said nine members of one family died in mortar blasts in a village in the northern province of Idlib.
In eastern province Deir al-Zor, government troops attacked with mortar and heavy machinegun fire after 12 of their own were killed by insurgents. At least one village was also killed in the violence there, the Observatory said.
The United Nations, meanwhile, said at least 34 children were believed to have been killed in Syria since the cease-fire began.
"Despite the deployment of United Nations cease-fire monitors, more than 34 children have allegedly been killed," the UN special envoy for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said in a release.
"I urge all parties in Syria to refrain from indiscriminate tactics resulting in the killing and wounding of children," she said.
slk/ipj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)