* Norwegian U.N. peacekeeper will test truce prospects
* Peacekeeper mission would need new U.N. resolution
* Explosions, fighting in Damascus satellite city
* Refugee flow to Turkey accelerates
By Erika Solomon
April 5 Syrian troops fought rebels in a town
near Damascus on Thursday before a senior U.N. peacekeeper was
due to seek President Bashar al-Assad's agreement for 250
unarmed U.N. observers to monitor a U.N.-backed ceasefire next
Explosions and heavy machinegun fire rocked Douma, 12 km (8
miles) from the capital, sending columns of smoke rising from
several buildings, anti-Assad activists from the Revolutionary
Council of the Damascus Countryside said.
Fighting shows no sign of abating even though Assad agreed
more than a week ago to a six-point peace plan drawn up by
U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to end the year-long conflict.
Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said in Geneva on Thursday
that countries were being asked to supply troops for the
proposed U.N. monitoring mission to Syria.
He said Syria had told Annan that troops had begun
withdrawing from certain areas and that the former U.N. chief's
team was trying to verify this.
On his visit to Syria, Norwegian Army former Chief of Staff
Major-General Robert Mood, 54, was to examine prospects for U.N.
observers to assess whether troops and insurgents respect the
truce due to take effect by next Thursday.
Mood has experience of armed U.N. peacekeeping operations in
Kosovo where around 60,000 troops were deployed in 1999 after a
ceasefire and army withdrawal agreement were already in place.
Annan's plan calls for Syrian troops to pull back from towns
and cities ahead of a ceasefire with rebels under an "effective
United Nations supervision mechanism". An "inclusive, Syrian-led
political process" would follow.
Russia has said the withdrawal is under way, but Western
leaders have voiced deep scepticism about Assad's good faith.
The opposition, British-based Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights said army reinforcements were heading for Douma, rather
than pulling back. Civilian casualties were reported there.
In northern Aleppo province, near the Turkish border, the
Observatory said security forces were attacking two villages and
had been fighting rebels for more than two hours.
"The loudspeakers at local mosques called for members of the
regime army to defect and come into the towns," the group said,
citing information from its network of activists inside Syria.
Four soldiers were killed and some civilians wounded. A
sniper killed a rebel in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.
REFUGEES IN TURKEY
Assad has been struggling to suppress what began as peaceful
uprising in March 2011, but which has turned into an armed
revolt as rebels fight back against troops and security forces.
The violence has prompted more than 40,000 Syrians to flee
the country, including up to 900 who arrived in Turkey in the
past 24 hours, a Turkish official said on Thursday. That was
about double the average influx of recent days.
"There has been an increased flow through Reyhanli and the
number was 800 to 900 yesterday," the official said.
Assad's government issued its latest official death toll for
the 12-month uprising. It told the United Nations that 6,044
people had been killed, of whom 2,566 were soldiers and police.
The United Nations itself says Assad's forces have killed
more than 9,000 people in the past year.
Syria's opposition and its Western and Arab supporters
strongly doubt that Assad will withdraw his forces.
"The Syrian authorities have said they will do that by April
10," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Wednesday.
"There is no sign of them doing it so far. Attacks on the
citizens, the civilians of their country have continued, the
murder, oppression, and torture of the regime has continued ..."
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said:
"The Syrian side has begun withdrawing forces from cities. The
main thing now is for all sides to carry out Annan's proposals."
Despite its pro-Assad tone, some diplomats have said Moscow
has grown increasingly frustrated with Damascus and its failure
to end the uprising but has denounced Western,
Arab and Turkish calls for the Syrian leader to step aside.
"Russia believes regime change in Syria would result in an
Islamist regime after a great deal of bloodshed," one senior
diplomat told Reuters.