UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Saturday expanding the number of UN cease-fire observers in Syria from 30 to 300 and demanding an immediate halt to the violence that has been escalating since the government and opposition agreed to end hostilities more than a week ago.
In Syria, five unarmed UN truce monitors toured the battered city at the heart of the country's uprising on foot Saturday, encountering unusually calm streets after weeks of shelling as a throng of residents clamored for foreign military help to oust President Bashar Assad.
Their foray into a chaotic crowd in the city of Homs highlighted the risks faced by the observers, protected only by bright blue helmets and bulletproof vests.
The Security Council resolution is the first authorizing unarmed UN military observers to go into a conflict area, and it gives Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon authority to decide when to deploy the additional monitors, based on developments on the ground including "the consolidation of the cease-fire."
The resolution establishes a United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria "comprising an initial deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers as well as an appropriate civilian component" for an initial period of 90 days to monitor the cessation of violence and the implementation of international envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan.
The resolution merged rival Russian and European texts and dropped a European threat of nonmilitary sanctions against Syria if it fails to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from towns and cities. Instead, it uses language from the resolution adopted April 14 authorizing deployment of the 30-strong advance team of observers that expresses the council's intention to assess implementation of the new resolution "and to consider further steps."
Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who pressed for speedy adoption of the resolution, told the council after yesterday's vote that the measure is "of fundamental importance to push forward the process of the peaceful settlement in Syria."
Russia and China, who vetoed two previous resolutions on Syria, are vehemently opposed to sanctions, and Churkin warned against any "deviation" from the new resolution. But U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, in the toughest speech of the session, warned Assad that if Syria doesn't implement all its commitments or obstructs the work of the monitors, the United States would pursue other "measures," which in diplomatic language usually means sanctions.