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As Syria Flouts Cease-fire, Ban Pushes to Send 300 Military Observers

April 19, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Government guns blasted away in the Syrian city of Homs Thursday, oblivious to a U.N. cease-fire. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon proposed sending as many as 300 military observers to Syria while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a new U.N. resolution including an arms embargo. Judy Woodruff reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: New pleas for peace fell on deaf ears in Damascus today. Syria’s rulers largely ignored appeals and threats from an international conference and the United Nations.

Government guns blasted away in the Syrian city of Homs today, oblivious to a U.N. cease-fire negotiated by special envoy Kofi Annan. Amateur video showed clouds of smoke rising skyward and fires raging in shattered buildings.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the ongoing assault.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations secretary-general: Despite assurances from the government, there has been no meaningful progress on the ground. This is unacceptable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ban proposed sending as many as 300 military observers to Syria. And he insisted that they have freedom of movement and the use of helicopters during their mission.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and other nations making up the “Friends of Syria” group gathered in Paris to try to put more pressure on the Assad government to comply with the cease-fire.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a new U.N. resolution, including an arms embargo and other measures, if need be.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: We are all here out of a sense of great frustration and outrage over what we see occurring in Syria. We also are hopeful that, despite the evidence thus far, the mission of Kofi Annan can begin to take root.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Worries that failure in Syria could lead to a civil war which could spread to the whole region were expressed by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

ALAIN JUPPE, French foreign minister (through translator): We will encourage the Security Council to deploy, as soon as possible, a robust and credible observer mission made up of hundreds of men with the aerial and terrestrial means to be able to see if the Annan plan is being complied with.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Russia and China have twice vetoed U.N. action against Syria, and it was unclear if they would support any new attempt.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a House hearing that no one has an obvious solution to the Syrian problem.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: From every angle, the situation in Syria is enormously complex. There is no silver bullet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Democrats and Republicans alike warned against direct military action.

REP. HOWARD “BUCK” MCKEON, R-Calif.: I am not recommending U.S. military intervention, particular in light of our grave budget situation, unless the national security threat was clear and present.

REP. ADAM SMITH, D-Wash.: I also agree with the chairman on the fact that I don’t see a military option for us in this area for a wide variety of reasons.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Panetta, in turn, played down the likelihood of U.S. military involvement.

LEON PANETTA: At this point in time, Congressman, the decision is that we will not have not have any boots on the ground and that we will not act unilaterally in that part of the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in Syria, thousands supporting the opposition warmly welcomed the head of the U.N. observer team in the country’s south. But with Syrian shells falling around the country, it was far from clear whether there will be any real truce to observe.