UN Monitors Stranded After Attack
(Al-Ayyam) An explosion struck the lead car in a convoy of UN monitors on a surprise visit to Khan Sheikhon in Idlib leaving the monitors stranded in the city. The explosion resulted in the death of many bystanders who swarmed the monitors’ cars in an attempt to welcome them and protest against Assad’s continued violations of the Annan Plan
Earlier in the day a funeral for an activist, Ahmad Fetrawi, which was attended by many people in Khan Sheikhoun, turned into a protest against the regime. After the burial mourners and protesters marched to the main square
“The monitors appeared suddenly in our town. No one was expecting them.” said Abou Houmam, a local activist. “When they arrived more people came out and then we were about 10,000 protesters.” Protesters surrounded the convoy, scrambled at the windows, and chanted anti-regime slogans
“There’s a checkpoint we have to pass through to get to the main square,” said Abou Houmam. “They opened fire on us as though the monitors were not there.” Other activists in the city confirmed Abou Houmam’s account. “When we passed near the checkpoint the soldiers opened fire on us,” said Fadi Yassine. “There were bullets flying everywhere, then the explosion happened.
Activists posted a video online they say show the moment of the explosion and a direct attack on the UN convoy. People are heard screaming and shoes are seen littering the street. Suddenly, a large crack fills the air and the lead car of the convoy is seen with damage resulting from a direct hit and people laying in front of the vehicle in a dark pool. As the UN vehicles are seen pulling away people are seen yelling and running in the street to tend to the injured. The final car of the convoy is seemingly seen to have run over the dead in an attempt to flee the scene
The explosion and clashes resulted in the deaths of 23 Syrians. Activists in field clinics estimated the number of injured at more than 100 and say they were struggling to keep patients alive as most of the injuries were life threatening. Volunteering medics say many of the injured were missing limbs and medics were struggling with blood supplies
The UN confirmed the explosion in a post on its News Centre website:
The three vehicles were part of a four-vehicle convoy of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), which was in Khan Cheikhoun, when an improvised explosive device was detonated around mid-afternoon local time, Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesperson for the Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian crisis, Kofi Annan, told reporters in Geneva today.
Abou Houmam said that the lead car was damaged in the blast but two other cars were damaged when the panicked drivers drove off hitting obstacles in their path.
By nighttime the monitors were still in Khan Sheikhon. The residents convinced them to disembark from their damaged cars and take shelter. Fadi Yassine says he arranged for the stranded monitors to speak with Gen. Robert Mood, the head of UNSMIS, from his phone. “I spoke with Mood’s assistance more than five times since the incident,” he said, adding “I also asked them to send cars to take them back to their hotel in Hama but none have arrived so the Free Syrian Army took them to a safe place.
One of the monitors spoke with AlJazeera via Skype. The monitor was identified as Yemeni named Ahmad and he spoke in Arabic. He told the channel that he heard gunfire from all directions and then an explosion. He described a scene of total chaos and was unable to identify the party that started the clashes. The monitor told AlJazeera’s anchor that the FSA stepped in and evacuated the monitors to a safe location.
Syrian state media claimed that “armed gangs” were responsible for the attack on the UN convoy. Syria TV, the regime’s main TV station, told its audience the monitors were being held as hostages by what it called fundamentalist terrorists.
Fadi Yassine denied these reports saying, “We offered to send them in our cars, they insisted they want UN cars. We asked the UN to send cars to collect the monitors, they said they don’t send cars out at night.” So what happens with the monitors now? “I guess they are sleeping here. We are making preparations to make them comfortable,” he said.