56 Dead in Syria as Troops Kill 9 Activists Who Met U.N. Team

A car bomb on Tuesday rocked central Damascus and 56 people were killed in fresh violence across the country, a day after nearly 60 were killed across Syria despite a hard-won ceasefire and the upcoming deployment of 300 U.N peace monitors.

Three people were wounded when the blast went off in the Marjeh district of the capital, Syrian state television reported, blaming "terrorists", the government term for rebels.

"An armed terrorist group detonated the car bomb near the Yelbugha complex in Marjeh, wounding three people and causing damage to nearby buildings," it said.

State news agency SANA said the bomb was placed under the car of an unsuspecting man, who was among those hurt.

The blast came as U.N. observers returned to the city of Hama's Arbaeen neighborhood, which activists said suffered a "massacre" on Monday at the hands of regime troops.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 31 civilians were killed in the flashpoint central city, out of a total of 56 people, including five soldiers, killed in violence across the country, despite the tenuous ceasefire.

A Damascus-based rights group said that among those killed in Hama were nine activists "summarily executed" a day after they had met the U.N. observers.

Activist Abu Ghazi al-Hamwi said the U.N. team met "members of the martyrs' families. But they did not comply with the families' requests to visit the mass graves where yesterday's dead had been buried."

Video footage posted online by activists showed a street in Arbaeen with large pools of blood and women weeping. Two young girls were shown in one video crying and holding up the picture of a man.

"This is my father," cries one girl.

The Observatory said two people also died on Tuesday in Damascus and its suburbs, one of them an intelligence officer shot in the neighborhood of Barzeh.

The violence occurred despite the April 12 ceasefire, and the presence of an advance team of U.N. monitors to implement the truce.

The persistent bloodshed has sparked growing criticism from opposition activists of the fledgling U.N. mission, which now numbers 11 observers out of a planned initial deployment of 30.

The monitors have toured several protest hubs since their arrival in the country earlier this month, including the battered city of Homs, where two of them set up base at the weekend.

During their visits, they have been greeted by thousands of protesters demanding the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad and the arming of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Despite skepticism over the U.N. mission, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday gave the go-ahead for the deployment of 300 ceasefire monitors from next week.

Ban insisted that the Assad government ensure the protection of the unarmed observers and allow them to travel freely throughout the country.

Russia, a staunch ally of the Damascus regime, warned both sides to the conflict against disrupting the work of the U.N. observers which it said was crucial to providing an unbiased picture on the ground.

"The more observers there are, the more information we get that is based on objective facts and that is free from speculation," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Critics have said the U.N. mission was simply allowing the regime to buy time as it presses its crackdown against what began as a popular revolt but has turned into an insurgency.

Washington has also expressed reservations, warning it may not back the mission's renewal after 90 days.

On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered new sanctions on Syria and Iran and the "digital guns for hire" who help them oppress their people with surveillance software and monitoring technology.

Obama announced additions to the pile of U.S. sanctions already faced by the two governments as part of a wider effort to crack down on human rights abuses, atrocities and genocide.

The measures will hit the two governments but also companies that help create systems that track or monitor their people for killing, torture or other abuses and prevent individuals involved from entering the United States.

Separately, the U.N.'s World Food Program on Tuesday said it was boosting assistance to the Syrian population to reach 500,000 people in the coming weeks.

"As the conflict continues, Syrians in areas affected by the violence are struggling to feed their families and WFP is deeply concerned about the potential for food insecurity," executive director Ertharin Cousin said in a statement.

Even before the revolt broke out in Syria in March 2011, 1.4 million Syrians, out of a population of 23 million, "were struggling to meet their daily food needs," Cousin said.

Source: Agence France Presse

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