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Syria shells suburb of Damascus as UN expands monitoring

The UN Security Council voted Saturday to expand the number of observers in Syria from 30 to 300, but fighting continues.

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UN cease-fire monitors toured a rebel-held town in central Syria Sunday with army defectors, while government troops stormed and shelled a Damascus suburb, activists said.

The shelling in Douma highlighted the need for more observers a day after the Security Council voted to expand the number of UN observers from 30 to 300 in hopes of salvaging an international truce plan marred by continued fighting between the military and rebels.

An eight-member team is already on the ground in Syria, and since Thursday has visited flashpoints of the 13-month-long conflict. Fighting generally halts temporarily when the observers are present in an area, but there has been a steady stream of reports of violence from towns and regions where they have not yet gone.

"This UN observers thing is a big joke," said Douma-based activist Mohammed Saeed. "Shelling stops and tanks are hidden when they visit somewhere, and when they leave, shelling resumes."

His comments reflect a widespread lack of faith among many Syrians in international envoy Kofi Annan's cease-fire plan for ending the violence in Syria and launching talks between President Bashar Assad and those trying to oust him. Syria's opposition and its Western supporters suspect Assad is largely paying lip service to the truce since full compliance — including withdrawing troops and heavy weapons from populated areas and allowing peaceful demonstrations — could quickly sweep him from power.

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