* U.N. set to vote on ceasefire observer mission
* Syria urged to implement U.N.-backed peace plan
By Dominic Evans
BEIRUT, April 13 Syrian forces loyal to
President Bashar al-Assad shot dead five protesters after
Friday prayers, activists reported, while the government said an
army officer was killed as violence marred a ceasefire brokered
by international peace envoy Kofi Annan.
At the United Nations, Russia criticised a U.S.-drafted
resolution authorising an advance team to monitor the fragile
ceasefire which aims to end 13 months of bloodshed during the
uprising against Assad, an ally of Moscow.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, presented his own
draft, casting doubt on Western plans for the Security Council
to vote on a resolution on Friday.
Syrians took to the streets across the country in small
demonstrations, trusting that the two-day-old truce that is
meant to lead to political dialogue would protect them from the
army bullets that have frightened off peaceful protesters for
Activists said security forces came out in strength in many
cities to prevent protesters mounting major rallies against
Assad, even though the plan of U.N.-Arab League envoy Annan says
the government should have pulled its troops back.
Protesters questioned Assad's commitment to the peace plan
that he has accepted. In the Qadam district of Damascus, they
held up a placard saying: "Bashar may be able to laugh at the
whole world - except for the Syrian people".
Another read: "The new comedy is the ceasefire".
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and
the anti-Assad Local Coordination Committees said two people
were killed as marchers tried to converge on a central square in
the city of Hama.
Soldiers also shot one person dead as worshippers left a
mosque in Nawa in the southern province of Deraa, where the
uprising began in March 2011. Security forces killed a fourth in
the town of Salqeen in the northwestern province of Idlib,
opposition activists said, and a fifth died in Deraya, Damascus
However, Syria's state news agency SANA blamed two of the
deaths on the opposition, saying an "armed terrorist group" shot
dead the man in Salqeen and attributing the death of one Hama
protester to a shot fired by a fellow demonstrator.
SANA also said "terrorists" shot an army major dead as he
drove to work. Armed groups were seeking to "destroy any effort
to find a political solution to the crisis" in Syria, it said.
The United Nations estimates that Assad's forces have killed
more than 9,000 people since the uprising began. Authorities
blame the violence on foreign-backed militants who they say have
killed more than 2,500 soldiers and police.
NO MASS RALLIES
Assad's opponents had called for mass rallies on Friday to
test whether the authorities would tolerate a return to peaceful
protests, as Annan's six-point plan said they should.
But rallies videoed by activists were far smaller than the
huge, chanting crowds seen in major cities at the start of the
uprising 13 months ago and on several occasions in 2011.
International pressure has grown for Syria to fulfil all its
commitments to the former U.N. chief by withdrawing troops and
heavy weapons, permitting humanitarian and media access,
releasing prisoners and discussing a political transition.
At the Security Council, the U.S.-drafted resolution called
for an initial deployment of up to 30 unarmed U.N. observers.
But Russia's Churkin came up with his own draft. "We have
put together a shorter version of (the U.S.) text," he told
reporters. "We had this understanding yesterday that it should
be to the point, pragmatic, specific about putting in boots on
the ground, (an) advance party of the monitoring team."
It was not clear if the Council would be able to agree on a
single text that could be voted on Friday. One council diplomat
said he doubted the vote would come before Saturday.
U.N. diplomats say Russia supports Annan's peace efforts but
is working hard to shield Damascus from what it fears is a
Western push for Libyan-style "regime change" to dislodge Moscow
from its only geo-strategic foothold in the Middle East.
Russia and China have vetoed two resolutions condemning
Assad's assault on anti-government protesters.
The competing drafts respond to Annan's request that the
Council move quickly to get the first members of an observer
force that will ultimately number up to 250 on the ground.
So many Syrians have fled the violence that neighbouring
Turkey has begun accepting international aid to help share the
cost of the caring for the nearly 25,000 refugees, including
rebel fighters, who have crossed the border.
Jordan is also housing almost 100,000 Syrian refugees, many
more than the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has registered, the
foreign ministers of Turkey and Jordan told a joint news
conference in Istanbul.
In Riyadh, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan discussed
Syria with Saudi King Abdullah. Turkish officials said Erdogan
had said the Annan plan "should not be allowed to become a means
of buying time for the Damascus administration".
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Assad's ceasefire
declaration was insincere and renewed a call for the creation of
aid passages, without saying how these could be protected.
"I firmly believe the international community should live up
to its responsibilities and create the conditions for
humanitarian corridors so that these poor people who are being
massacred can escape a dictator," he told TV channel i>tele.
Sarkozy said he had discussed Syria and the observer plan
with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday.
Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi would not name countries that
would contribute the observers, but said in Geneva many already
had staff in the region who could move swiftly.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said a U.N.
technical team that was in Damascus last week would return to
the capital on Friday for more talks on a protocol under which
the observer mission could be deployed.
Fawzi called for action on the other points of Annan's plan,
especially the withdrawal of Syrian armed forces from populated
areas, a condition that Syria was supposed to meet in the 48
hours leading up to the ceasefire deadline.
"We are worried about the operational deployment of heavy
armour in population centres," he said. "They didn't belong
there in the first place and they don't belong there now.
"We are thankful that there's no heavy shelling, that the
number of casualties are dropping, that the number of refugees
crossing the border are also dropping."
Underlining the fragility of the truce, Fawzi confirmed
there had been some clashes. "Sometimes in situations like this
the parties test each other ... one shot, one bullet can plunge
Syria back into the abyss," he said.