World and Nation

UN observers prove little deterrent to Syrian attacks

BEIRUT — Syrian government forces engaged in an extended game of cat and mouse against U.N. observers Monday, attacking cities like Hama after the monitors left and adopting a low profile as the monitors visited the Damascus suburbs.

Hama, which had been quiet a day before when the U.N. team visited, boomed repeatedly as shells exploded in the Arbaeen and Mashaa al-Arbaeen neighborhoods, according to activists and videos posted on YouTube. The videos showed plumes of smoke erupting over low, dun-colored houses.

The ability and willingness of government forces to strike civilian centers even with monitors in the country seemed only to confirm widespread feelings in Syria of the futility of the mission. The observers’ unwillingness to rove around the country on Fridays — the day of protest — was the first sign to many among the opposition who saw it as a toothless operation from the start.

“There has been an unprecedented deployment of security forces all around the northern part of the city,” said Ahmad, an activist in Hama reached via Skype. “This is Annan’s gift,” he added, referring to Kofi Annan, who negotiated the ostensible cease-fire under U.N. auspices.

Activist organizations put the death toll around 30, with some reportedly struck down by machine gun fire.

Ahmad, who used only one name for fear of retribution, said the armed forces seemed to be targeting those neighborhoods in Hama where hundreds had turned out to demonstrate against the regime while the inspectors were in the city Sunday.

In the Damascus suburb of Douma, which witnessed a violent government assault Sunday, the soldiers faded into the background, witnesses said. Instead, a raucous crowd of hundreds materialized on the streets, mobbing a small knot of weapons inspectors and chanting for the fall of the Syrian government.

In another town near Damascus, Zabadani, activists complained that the six inspectors barely spent any time, using most of it to visit the local government headquarters and skipping areas destroyed by shelling. A video described as having been shot in Zabadani on Monday showed the distinctive white U.N. vehicles driving past a tank and an armored personnel carrier that were parked on the main square in flagrant violation of the six-point peace plan. That plan calls for the return of the military to its barracks.