published Friday, April 20th, 2012

Syrian troops shell central city of Homs

From left, France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and an unidentified participant speak before meeting on Syria, Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Paris. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
From left, France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and an unidentified participant speak before meeting on Syria, Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Paris. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

BASSEM MROUE

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops shelled a rebel-held neighborhood and sent reinforcements to border areas as the opposition called for fresh protests Friday after the United Nations accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of failing to honor a peace plan that went into effect a week ago.

The latest violence came hours after Western and Arab diplomats from the "Friends of Syria" group met in Paris. At the meeting Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for the U.N. Security Council to adopt an arms embargo and other tough measures against Syria.

Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Syria was not honoring a cease-fire, which took effect last week, and that violence was escalating.

The cease-fire is seen as the most viable way to end the bloodshed that has killed more than 9,000 people since an uprising against Assad began 13 months ago.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a mortar round was hitting the rebel-held neighborhood of Khaldiyeh every five minutes.

Citing its network of sources on the ground, the group said explosions and cracks of gunfire rang out in the town of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon. Activists said regime forces were sending reinforcements to Qusair.

"Regime forces are fortifying their positions in eastern and western Qusair," about 10 kilometers (7 miles) from Lebanon, said the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdul-Rahman.

Activists called for anti-government protests after the Friday prayers.

The U.N. has sent a team of seven international observers into Syria, with the hopes of boosting the numbers soon.

Ban has recommended the Security Council quickly approve a 300-member U.N. observer mission to Syria, a number larger than what was originally envisioned. But he said he will review ground developments before deciding when to deploy the mission.

In China, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Friday that Beijing was willing to send observers to monitor the cease-fire in Syria — a statement that reflected a change from the previous day, when he said the move was only being considered. China and Russia have both been seen as protecting Assad by twice shielding Syria from U.N. sanctions over the crackdown.

The spokesman did not give details on how many observers China would send or on any financial contribution, saying that Beijing was still in talks with U.N. officials.

An amateur video posted online by activists showed at least two of the observers, including the team's head, Col. Ahmed Himiche, standing outside a U.N. vehicle Thursday as dozens chanted, "Death is better than humiliation!" and "The people want to topple the regime!"

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