| International News | Saturday April 28 2012 7:34
A deadly suicide bombing has rocked the Syrian capital, killing 11 people and fuelling growing scepticism about hopes for the success of a UN-backed peace plan.
At least 11 people died and dozens were wounded by Friday's blast, which hit as worshippers were leaving weekly prayers at the nearby Zein al-Abidin mosque in the central Midan district, state television said.
The report blamed "terrorists", the term used by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to refer to rebels, and said civilians and security force members were among the casualties.
Television footage showed gruesome images, including a severed hand, pieces of flesh and pools of blood.
A separate blast hit an industrial zone of Damascus but there were no reports of casualties, and three security agents were wounded in a blast in the coastal city of Banias, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Assad's regime has repeatedly blamed "armed terrorist groups" for the violence, and for failing to abide by a putative ceasefire that went into force on April 12.
But UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the regime was in contravention of a six-point peace deal by keeping troops and heavy weapons in urban areas, and expressed alarm about reports of population centres being shelled.
On Thursday, 22 people died in Syria, most of them civilians, the Britain-based Observatory said.
And overnight clashes between troops and rebels in the central city of Homs killed at least one army deserter and wounded another 15, it added.
More than 9,000 people have died since a popular uprising erupted against Assad's regime in March 2011, the UN says, while non-governmental groups put the figure at more than 11,100.
The Local Coordination Committees, which organise protests, said a massive demonstration began at Sayid Ahmed Mosque in Damascus' Qadam district on Friday, with security forces firing on it and making arrests.
It also said several people were injured in the eastern oil city of Deir Ezzor after security forces opened gunfire to disperse a demonstration.
Opposition figure Walid al-Bunni said the accord drawn up by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was likely to fail because it obliges Syria to allow free demonstrations.
"If the Annan plan which provides for peaceful demonstrations is applied, millions of Syrians will take to the streets and the regime will fall," he told AFP in Cairo.
The truce, which has never witnessed a day without violence, is to be monitored by 300 UN observers due to arrive in Syria in the coming weeks. A small advance team is already on the ground, and will be doubled to 30 by month's end, a UN official said on Friday.
The UN said Ban "remains deeply troubled by the continued presence of heavy weapons, military equipment and army personnel in population centres".
This was "in contravention of the Syrian government's commitments to withdraw its troops and heavy weapons from these areas," he said, demanding Damascus "comply with its commitments without delay".
Western nations have expressed strong doubts that the UN observers will be able to work, and the United States has already warned it may not renew the mission's initial three-month mandate.
US Ambassador Susan Rice said the Security Council must be ready to order sanctions if Syria flouts commitments to halt violence.
"We condemn what remains the government's refusal to abide by its commitments, its continued intense use of heavy weaponry in Hama and elsewhere, which continues to result in large numbers of civilian deaths every day," she said.
The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, has called for an emergency Security Council meeting to discuss a resolution to protect civilians.
"Hama in recent days, and following a visit by UN observers, witnessed a series of crimes ... that left more than 100 people dead and hundreds wounded because of heavy shelling," it said.
The Arab League said it would ask the UN to ensure the immediate protection of civilians, but without going as far as demanding the use of force.
"The entire world is waiting for a truce and the observers to be deployed, but unfortunately the fighting has not stopped and every day new victims die," Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said.
On Wednesday, France raised the prospect of military intervention if Annan's peace plan fails.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the international community would have to move to a Chapter Seven resolution, which authorises foreign powers to take measures including military options.
However, Juppe added such a resolution, which was also mooted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, was unlikely to pass, alluding to previous Security Council vetoes by Russia and China.
Moscow, a long-time Damascus ally blamed the recent violence in Hama on rebel forces and hinted at al-Qaeda involvement.