THE ceasefire negotiated by Kofi Annan, the joint Arab League/UN envoy in Syria, seems to have brought little respite. Since the fighting supposedly stopped on April 12th at least 100 more Syrians have died, pushing the toll in 13 months above 10,000. Government forces are again shelling Homs, the country’s battered third city. Residents of the north-west province of Idleb report fresh executions by regime thugs. Armed rebels may also have carried out attacks; with foreign reporters still largely barred, it is hard to tell.
Ahmed Himmiche, the Moroccan head of a six-man vanguard of UN observers, calls its mission “difficult”. If deployed, a fuller contingent of up to 300 blue berets will be thinly stretched even if backed by the planes and helicopters requested by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.
In any case, Syria is trying to water down the UN’s aims. Its foreign minister, Walid Muallem, says the observers will simply oversee the ceasefire, whereas Mr Annan’s plan also wants to see prisoners freed, heavy weaponry pulled back from residential areas and aid workers and the press given full access.
Russia and China, which backed the Annan plan after blocking earlier resolutions in the UN Security Council, are still hedging their bets. Moscow accuses outsiders of undermining the plan, which may be a veiled reference to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The two Gulf states pledged to finance the armed opposition earlier this month, although neither their cash nor a promised $12m in American humanitarian aid has started to flow, mainly because officials have no idea which of Syria’s fragments of opposition to give it to.
At least the slight pause has prompted protesters to brave a continued, heavy presence of armed itchy-fingered regime forces and take to the streets again. Some activists, worried that militarisation has turned Syrians against the uprising, are now calling for a reversion to solely peaceful protest. But as the regime continues to violate the agreement, the chances for this, as for Mr Annan’s plan, are slim.