A team from the United Nations peacekeeping department is expected in Damascus within 48 hours to discuss deployment of observers to monitor a ceasefire in Syria, the spokesman for international mediator Kofi Annan has said.
"A DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] planning mission should be arriving in Damascus within 48 hours," spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.
As part of the six-part peace plan put forward by Annan to halt the fighting, UN peacekeepers are planning for a ceasefire monitoring mission that would have 200 to 250 unarmed observers. The move would require a UN Security Council resolution.
Syria has pledged to withdraw all military units from cities and towns by April 10 to open the way for a ceasefire with rebels two days later, though Western envoys were sceptical on Monday about Damascus' intent to halt its year-long assault on opponents.
Assad has agreed to start implementing a peace plan by April 10, but Annan told the UN Security Council that there has been no progress yet in halting the bloodshed.
Syria has agreed to start partially implementing Annan's peace plan by April 10 and that there should be a "full cessation of hostilities" within 48 hours, the former UN secretary general told the council.
Syria's ambassador to the UN confirmed on Monday that Damascus has accepted the deadline for partially implementing Annan's peace plan, but wants the same commitment from the opposition.
"The Syrian government is committed but we are expecting Mr Kofi Annan and some parties in the Security Council also to get the same kind of commitments from the [opposition]. A plan wouldn't be successful unless everybody is committed to it," said Bashar Jaafari.
According to the plan, the Syrian government would stop the movement of troops into cities and withdraw heavy weapons from urban areas.
Annan told the council there has been "no progress" so far on reaching a ceasefire or implementing his six-point peace plan, one diplomat said.
Annan also said the Security Council had to start considering the deployment of an observer mission to monitor events in Syria.
Despite Annan's plan, reports have emerged that the Syrian government sent troops backed by tanks into rebellious areas on Monday to search for activists.
The UN says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria over the past year while Syrian rights activists put the death toll at more than 10,000.
But Western diplomats expressed scepticism about the credibility of the Syrian government, which has repeatedly promised to end attacks while continuing with its crackdown on a year-long uprising that has brought the country to the brink of civil war.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told reporters that several council members had "expressed concern that the government of Syria not use the next days to intensify the violence and expressed some skepticism about the bona fides of the government in this regard".
Arab and Western nations have called for a deadline to be imposed on Assad, but Russia, a major ally of the government in Syria and a permanent member of the Security Council, has rejected the calls.
Annan went to Damascus this month to meet Assad for talks and has since been in contact with government officials to demand an end to the violence.
A Friends of Syria meeting of about 80 countries including the United States, Arab and European nations called on Sunday for a deadline to be imposed against Assad.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|