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U.N. resolution expands number of observers in Syria to 300

The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Saturday expanding the number of U.N. 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.

The resolution is the first authorizing unarmed U.N. 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."

Ban accused Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday of failing to honor the cease-fire, expressing dismay that increased violence is claiming more lives. In a statement Saturday from his spokesman welcoming adoption of the resolution, the U.N. chief again demanded that Syria end all violence and "the gross violations of the fundamental rights of the Syrian people," and send its troops and heavy weapons back to their barracks.

The resolution establishes a United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, to be known as UNSMIS, "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 a resolution, adopted last weekend 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."

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.

"Let there be no doubt [that] we, our allies and others in this body are planning and preparing for those actions that will be required of all of us if the Assad regime persists in the slaughter of the Syrian people," she said, adding that the U.S. will not wait 90 days to take these measures if Syria keeps flouting its obligations.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the expanded observer mission and Annan's proposal "represents the last opportunity to secure a solution to the crisis in Syria."

"It is an unprecedented step to deploy unarmed U.N. personnel into such a dangerous environment," Lyall Grant said. "It is fraught with risk. The mission will fail in its task if the regime continues to violate its commitments and obstructs the work of the mission."

Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, told the Security Council his government had informed Annan on Saturday that it has withdrawn troops and heavy weapons from urban centers, but he did not make clear when the purported pullback took place.

In Syria, five unarmed U.N. truce monitors, members of an eight-member advance team that has been on the ground a week, toured Homs, the battered city at the heart of the uprising, on foot, encountering unusually calm streets after weeks of shelling as a throng of residents clamored for foreign military help to oust Assad.