“Violence over the past 10 days has been intensifying willingly by both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers,” General Mood, the Norwegian head of the unarmed observers, said at a news conference in Damascus.
His remarks came two months after the Security Council authorized the deployment of the monitoring group for 90 days, and he warned that the looming assessment on whether to continue could well be negative. The cease-fire is considered the first goal in a six-point peace plan designed to lead to a political dialogue between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents.
“There appears to be a lack of willingness to seek a peaceful transition,” General Mood said. “Instead, there is a push toward advancing military positions.” Those paying the price are Syrians, who in some cases have been trapped by the violence, he said.
The violence is also preventing the 300 international monitors from doing their job, the general said, “limiting our ability to observe, verify, report, as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects.”
Opposition activists monitoring flash points around the country, including Homs, Aleppo and its surrounding province and the southern province of Dara’a, reported continued shelling of civilian neighborhoods by government forces on Friday, as large antigovernment demonstrations were held.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Society to evacuate wounded people in critical condition from besieged neighborhoods in Homs, where it said there were no medical personnel to operate on them.
The opposition has repeatedly accused the government of assassinating or jailing medical personnel it suspects of giving care to anyone not supporting the government. The government has been silent about their cases.
In Dara’a Province, activists said that two mortar shells fired by government forces at protesters gathering outside the Khaled bin al-Walid mosque, in the village of Busra al-Sham, had killed eight people and wounded many more, some seriously.
Videos said to have been taken soon after the mortars fell showed the corpses lined up in a mosque as well as damaged vehicles, shattered masonry and blood on the street.
The protest went ahead anyway, said Mohammad al-Harir, an activist reached by telephone. “The regime is carrying out big attacks across Dara’a to try to finish the peaceful demonstrations and the Free Syrian Army,” said Mr. Harir, referring to the coalition of local militias fighting the government. “But after a year and a half of demonstrations under the heavy crackdown, the people will not give up.”
A report by the official Syrian Arab News Agency blamed an unidentified “armed terrorist group” — the standard government label for any opposition — for detonating two bombs outside the mosque in Busra al-Sham. The Syrian government sharply limits the entry of foreign journalists and their ability to move around the country, preventing any independent assessment of the differing claims.
In Damascus, activists accused the government of trying to prevent demonstrations after Friday Prayer by deploying a heavy security force, closing numerous mosques and trying to scare people away by inventing a plot by Al Qaeda to blow up several mosques during prayers. The government presented a man, who by appearance could have been an adolescent, confessing to the plot on television.
In Istanbul, various opposition groups and independent activists began a two-day meeting sponsored by the Syrian National Council, the main opposition umbrella organization in exile, to try to resolve their differences.
There has been tepid international support for the council because of constant infighting, the gap between the opposition inside Syria and abroad, as well as the lack of a tangible plan for a transition away from 40 years of rule by the Assad family.
Reporting was contributed by Dalal Mawad and Hwaida Saad from Beirut; an employee of The New York Times from Damascus, Syria; and Alan Cowell from London.