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Blast near UN convoy threatens Syria truce

Obama moves to extend sanctions

Wounded Syrian soldiers were evacuated after a roadside bomb attack targeted their convoy escorting UN observers. Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images/AFP

DARAA, Syria - A roadside bomb hit a Syrian military truck Wednesday just seconds after the head of the UN observer team drove by in a convoy, demonstrating the fragility of the international plan to end the country’s bloodshed.

In Washington, meanwhile, President Obama took steps to extend sanctions against the government of President Bashar Assad, saying Syria poses an “unusual and extraordinary threat’’ to US national security and diplomatic goals.

The attack, which the regime said wounded 10 Syrian soldiers, emphasized the limits of the international community’s plan to use unarmed observers to promote a cease-fire between government troops and rebels trying to topple Assad.


The team of 70 UN military observers now in Syria should grow to more than 100 in the coming days. It is unclear when the full team of 300 will arrive. They are to oversee a UN-brokered cease-fire that was intended to allow for talks on a political solution to the conflict but began unraveling shortly after it was to take effect on April 12.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack, saying the continuing violence undermines the plan, which is “possibly the only remaining chance to stabilize the country and avert a civil war.’’

The peace plan has been troubled from the start, with government troops shelling opposition areas and rebels attacking military convoys and checkpoints despite the cease-fire.

Many civilians have grown critical of the plan, saying it does not protect them from regime forces.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the roadside blast that hit troops escorting the UN monitors was “further evidence that the cease-fire is not holding.’’

Although the daily death toll has dropped in recent days, international envoy Kofi Annan said Tuesday that the level of violence is unacceptable and that the plan’s failure could lead to civil war.


Wednesday’s blast, witnessed by an Associated Press reporter who was traveling with the United Nations, provided a close-up example of the attacks on security forces that have become almost daily events.

The bomb went off as Major General Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of the UN observer team, rode in a clearly marked armored white Land Cruiser from the capital, Damascus, to the southern city of Daraa, where Syria’s uprising began.

The explosion, which occurred at about 11:20 a.m. after the convoy had passed a military checkpoint, shattered the windows of the Syrian military truck and sent up a cloud of smoke and red sand. The truck sped into the city, where several bloodied soldiers were rushed to a hospital.

Speaking to reporters later, Mood said it was unclear whom the bomb was targeting.

“For me the important thing is really not speculating about who was the target, what was the target, but it is to make the point that this is what the Syrian people [are] seeing every day and it needs to stop,’’ he said. “Whoever is doing it and whoever is supporting it.’’

No one claimed responsibility for the bombing. The regime blames such attacks on terrorists it says are stoking the anti-Assad uprising.

An exiled rebel leader, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, warned that armed groups in the country would resume attacks because the government had flouted the cease-fire, the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported Wednesday. Asaad told the paper that “our people are demanding that we defend them.’’


The streets of Daraa were crowded on Wednesday and stores were open, but the city felt tense amid heavy security, with soldiers deployed everywhere and at least three checkpoints leading to the city center. Long lines of drivers waited to have their IDs checked or cars searched.

Dozens of soldiers stood outside the hotel where some observers have been stationed, keeping a close eye on nearby buildings.

Activists said regime forces fired a mortar shell at the home of an activist in Daraa soon after he met with UN observers there on Wednesday, injuring 10 people.

“Each time they come, there is an attack,’’ activist Karam al-Hariri said by phone.

Another activist, Mohammed Abu Hawran, said the observers returned after the attack to take pictures and check on the wounded.