Middle East

UN due to vote on boosting Syria observer mission

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Media captionInside the town of Taftanaz where a massacre is reported to have been carried out

The UN Security Council has agreed a draft resolution on sending 300 international monitors to Syria, after considering two versions.

The final draft, which merges details of Russian and European versions, would see military observers and civilian experts initially deployed for three months.

A handful of observers are already in Syria monitoring the fragile ceasefire.

The Security Council is due to vote on the resolution later on Saturday.

Although overall violence has fallen, countless ceasefire violations have already been reported by activists and reporters on the ground.

According to Reuters, at least 23 people were killed on Friday, 10 of them in a roadside bomb targeting security forces and most of the others in army shelling on the city of Homs.

Aid fears

France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said the text of a resolution agreed late on Friday would be voted on at 11:00 (15:00 GMT) on Saturday.

A Russian draft wanted observers sent immediately, but Britain, France and Germany wanted to wait until Syria had withdrawn troops and weaponry from population centres.

The European draft resolution also wanted non-military sanctions to be applied against Syria if it fails to comply with Kofi Annan's peace plan, which was not in the Russian version.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called for a global arms embargo and further sanctions if the government continues to break the ceasefire.

The international community has also been looking at ways of getting humanitarian aid to Syria, with diplomats meeting in Geneva on Friday to discuss the situation.

They agreed to a draft plan to provide $180m (£112m) for food, medicine and other supplies to about one million people inside Syria. That comes on top of the aid that is being delivered to refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries.

The plan still needs Syria's approval, with the key issue being the number of aid workers allowed into the country.

United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Baroness Valerie Amos, has said she is "extremely concerned" that aid is still not reaching the people who need it in Syria.

'Path to civil war'

In a report to the UN earlier in the week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Syrian government had not complied with the terms of the peace deal, but that there remained an "opportunity for progress".

He noted that there had been "no significant release of detainees", and "no substantive progress" in negotiations on humanitarian access, in reference to other aspects of Mr Annan's six-point plan.

Foreign ministers from the Friends of Syria coalition, meeting in Paris on Thursday evening, agreed that the ceasefire and Kofi Annan's peace plan were the "last hope" of avoiding civil war in Syria.

Image caption A member of the UN advance team signed the agreement with Syria's deputy foreign minister

The Friends of Syria group includes Western and Arab nations, but not Russia or China, who have blocked previous attempts to introduce UN sanctions.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that if the UN-backed peace plan failed, Syria would be "on the path to civil war".

Mr Juppe warned that the situation in Syria could spill out to the wider region, and said "several hundred" international monitors were needed, as per the draft resolutions put forward by Russia and European countries.

Mr Ban stressed Syria's responsibility to provide "unfettered access" and the use of helicopters to the monitors, the first of whom arrived this week.

The agreement reached with Damascus does not include access to aircraft, according to Reuters.

It is also not clear how freely observers will be permitted to move around under the terms agreed with the Syrian authorities.