US officials have said that a recently deployed advance UN monitoring mission is not being given the "freedom…that is required" on the ground in Syria. Negotiations on bolstering the monitors' numbers continue.
Several top US officials said on Wednesday that the UN's advance monitoring team in Syria was not being granted freedom of movement throughout the country.
"We have a very small number of observers now on the ground and it seems that small number is having difficulty with the freedom that we all expected and that is required," US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was later due to report to the Security Council on the mission status for the seven observers so far deployed in Syria.
Video footage was posted on the Internet Wednesday that appeared to show protesters surrounding a UN vehicle on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, waving banners. The footage later showed them dispersing, to the sound of gunshots. There were conflicting reports on whether anybody was injured, none were reported dead.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said this, and further reports of violence in flashpoint settlements like Homs and Idlib, seemed to show that President Bashar al-Assad's regime was only paying lip service to the peace plan put forward by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
"It's another indication of the apparent but not entirely unexpected insincerity of the Assad regime when it promises to abide by the elements of the Kofi Annan plan, ceasefire and withdrawal," Carney said. "We will work with our allies and partners on next steps."
More observers, but how many?
The current team of UN observers is expected to be expanded to 30 in the coming days. There is as yet no formal agreement with Damascus on the eventual size and scope of the observer mission.
The plan calls for 250 observers in total, a figure Ban has said might not be sufficient. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that that figure was "reasonable," also asking that the observers hail from countries such as China, Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa - rather than some of Syria's more staunch critics in Europe and North America.
Foreign ministers from more than ten countries that are members of the "Friends of Syria" group will meet in Paris on Thursday, with Germany's Guido Westerwelle among their ranks. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called for a "strong reaction" from the group in response to the continued reports of violence and the difficulties dispatching UN observers.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Brussels on the sidelines of a NATO summit Wednesday that the situation in Syria had reached a "crucial turning point."
"Either we succeed with … the Annan plan with the help of monitors … or Assad will squander his last chance before additional measures have to be considered," Clinton said.
msh / sgb (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)