Gunfire in Syrian town during U.N. visit

BEIRUT Wed Apr 18, 2012 12:22pm EDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Shooting broke out in a Syrian town on Wednesday during a visit by United Nations monitors overseeing a ceasefire brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan, pro-government media and activists said.

Six U.N. observers travelled to Erbin escorted by Syrian police cars and were mobbed by flag-waving demonstrators protesting against President Bashar al-Assad.

Activist amateur video footage, allegedly filmed in Erbin in Damascus province, showed two white cars with U.N. markings surrounded by anti-Assad protesters.

There was a loud bang, the protesters fled, and the camera moved to show dust rising in front of the first car before the sound of sirens as the vehicles sped away.

In Damascus, head of the U.N. advance monitoring team Colonel Ahmet Himmiche denied the cars had been fired upon.

"No, we did not come under fire in Erbin," he told Reuters TV.

Another activist video from Erbin showed Himmiche walking through the tight throng wearing a U.N. blue beret and flak-jacket and getting into his vehicle where he spoke on a loud-hailer, apparently asking the crowd to move back and let the cars move out.

A banner held by one of the protesters read: "The butcher continues killings, the observers continue observing, and the people continue with their revolution. We only bow to God."

Syria's state Ikhbariya television channel said a "terrorist group" had also planted a bomb at a checkpoint, wounding a member of the Syrian security forces.

Another Internet video which activists said was filmed in Erbin showed a crowd of people running down a street with the sound of automatic weapons fire in the background.

There are as yet only half a dozen U.N. monitors in Syria, led by Himmiche. On Tuesday, they made a trip south to the city of Deraa apparently without incident.

(Editing by Maria Golovnina)

FILED UNDER: